The Iranian parliament met in secret yesterday to discuss the hostage issue, but adjourned its debate after two hours and 15 minutes without setting long-awaited terms for the hostages' release or reaching any conclusions.
Legislators began another closed session this morning, according to a parliament spokesman quoted by news services in Tehran.
The parliament, or Majlis, had been scheduled to hear a report in a public session from a seven-member commission recommending terms for the Americans' release. However, the assembly voted to hold its deliberations in private after dissension on discussing the hostage issue at all broke out on the floor.
Another factor in the parliament's decision was a predawn Iraqi missile attack on the southwestern Iranian city of Dezful, which some deputies charged was part of an American plot to put pressure on the parliament. Iran said the attack killed at least 100 persons.
The devastating Iraqi attack, which employed Frog 7 surface-to-surface missiles for the second time in the five-week-old Iranian-Iraqi, war, hardly seemed a coincidence, given Baghdad's stated fears lately that the United States was seeking to supply Iran with military spare parts in return for the hostages' release. In any case, the Iraqi attack appeared to contribute heavily to delaying a parliamentary decision on the hostage issue.
The parliament was expected to continue discussion in today's session of the report drafted by the special hostage commission. However, it was not immediately clear when the parliament would finally decide on the terms for release, and further sessions in the days ahead appeared likely, Washington Post correspondent Loren Jenkins reported from Beirut. One deputy was quoted as saying that the debate could take a week to 10 days.
Because of the decision to hold its deliberations in secret, reversing a previous promise to make them public, the final conditions for the captives' release were not officially announced as scheduled. However, Reuter news agency quoted deputies in Tehran as saying that the terms included four conditions issued Sept. 12 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and some other unspecified ones.
Khomeini said that the hostages would be released when the United States released frozen Iranian assets, dropped all claims against Iran, returned the late shah's property and promised not to interfere in Iranian internal affairs. Reuter quoted Majlis sources as saying that another condition debated during the session was that Washington withdraw its naval forces from the Persian Gulf. No further details were revealed.
A high Iranian official reached by telephone in Tehran after yesterday's parliamentary session said he thought the debate could go on for some time. Other sources, including Hassan Ayat, central council member of the hardline Islamic Republican Party, told news services in Tehran that they doubted the hostages would be freed before the Nov. 4 U.S. presidential election.
The Iranian government source said yesterday's session was to work out conditions for release and that the parliament would then have to be told whether the United States had met those conditions. He said a release of some hostages in return for a U.S. agreement on conditions was possible and clearly being discussed in Tehran. Under such a plan, the remainder of the hostages would be freed as the conditions were implemented.
The source insisted that the partial release would not lead to new conditions, such as a decision to put the remaining hostages on trial. However, it was not clear whether this view reflected the thinking of the parliament, which has sole responsibility for settling the hostage issue.
Moreover, yesterday's public session showed that the parliament remains divided on the hostage issue and that hard-line elements apparently are still committed to thwarting any agreement with the United States.
Several deputies rose to make violent anti-U.S. speeches, some of them accusing Washington of complicity in the Iraqi invasion of Iran and blaming the United States for the missile attack on Dezful. Feelings ran so high after word of the strike reached the legislators taht a motion was made to put off discussion of the hostage issue until after the war with Iraq ended. This was defeated by a vote of 98 to 87, but another motion to hold the session in secret passed easily.
One supporter of the postponement motion, Mohsen Rahmi, cited the Iraqi missile attack and accused the United States of "resorting to its last trick to solve the hostage issue before the U.S. presidential election," Reuter reported. He said that "the release, imprisonment or execution of the hostages" should be discussed later.
Another parliamentarian argued that if the conditions were announced now, it would help President Carter's reelection campaign.
The house speaker, Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, delivered a scathing speech to journalists attending the public part of the session. He complained that reporters were ignoring the "crimes" of the Iraqi armed forces and bitterly condemned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Jenkins reported.
"Is the issue of the slaughter and crimes of Saddam's regime more important than investigating the fate of 52 spy hostages?" Rafsanjani asked the reporters minutes before the deputies voted to exclude them all from the hostage debate. "You should pay attention to those important human events . . . Your reporting consciences should be awakened."
Despite the decision to hold further sessions in secret, diplomats in Tehran were taking a cautiously optimistic view of the proceedings. They said the private sessions might facilitate the debate, which already has been complicated by the parliament's desire to avoid the impression that it is giving into pressure during its costly war with Iraq.