Republican vice presidential nominee George Bush today accused Iran of using the American hostages to "manipulate" the outcome of the next Tuesday's U.S presidential election.
Beginning a final week of campaign appearances in five key electoral states, Bush told a gathering of labor leaders here that talk of releasing some or all of the 52 hostages was an effort by Iran to exert "last-minute leverage" in the close contest between President Carter and Ronald Reagan.
"It's no secret . . . that the Iranians do not want to see Ronald Reagan elected president," Bush said. "They want to play a hand in this election -- with our 52 hostages as the 52 cards in their neogotiating deck."
But the former ambassador and CIA director stopped short of directly linking Carter to what he called "a cool, cynical, unconscionable ploy" by the government headed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
"Is he [Carter] playing politics? No," Bush replied cautiously during a television interview here. "But I think it's fair to ask how come right now there's talk of releasing them [the hostages] after nearly a year."
Attempting to diffuse any political repercussions should the hostages be released before the election, Bush said he wanted them "out as soon as possible . . . . We want them home and we'll worry about who to blame later."