President Carter could well be handed Iran's conditions for release of the American hostages on the eve of next Tuesday's presidential election according to a scenario under discussion in Tehran, a high Iranian government official said in a telephone interview yesterday.
The official, who would not allow the use of his name, said that the Iranian parliamentary commission charged with drawing up the conditions is "unanimous" in wanting a quick settlement, and that it plans to present its conditions to the Majlis, or parliament, on Sunday.
The present plan of members of the commission is to have its report debated and passed on Sunday. If this timetable is followed, Carter would be presented with the formal Iranian proposals just as the American electorate is preparing to make its presidential decision.
State Department experts on Iran expressed sketicism yesterday that such a scenario can be carried out in view of the cross-purposes and confusion that have characterized the last several days of consideratin of the hostage issue in the Majlis.
One official said it is "farfetched" that the unruly Iranian legislature could reach agreement on the conditions for the release of the hostages in only one more day of debate. He added that it is uncertain whether the parliament will even be able to muster a quorum.
Some Washington observers suggested it is in the Iranian character to believe that a deadline such as the U.S. presidential election can be used for bargaining and pressure when haggling over the terms of a deal. But such last-minute bargaining on a matter of such far-reaching importance and high emotion could be extremely difficult if not impossible for an American president heading into the last day of a hotly contested election.
The Iranian official said the parliamentary commission has been spending the past few days working on a "technical formula" for implementing the conditions that were set by Ayatollah Rullah Khomeini on Sept. 12 and which were the basis for the commission's original report to the Majlis last Sunday.
The details of the conditions have taken on additional importance, he said, because an earlier idea of a partial, or phased, release of the hostages has been set aside due to American objections. In the phased release plan the continued captivity of some of the hostages would have been Iran's assurance, in its view, that the United States would fulfill the terms of a generalized agreement.
According to the Iranian official, sentiment among commission members favors requiring Carter to pledge to use the power of his office to release the frozen Iranian assets and guarantee their return to the Tehran government. The existing American assurance on this point, transmitted to Iran in diplomatic channels, consists only of a pledge by Carter to unfreeze the assets. After that, however, the money could still be kept in this country because of legal action on behalf of American banks and corporations with claims against Iran.
Hostage commission members are also reported to favor a specific declaration from Carter that the fortune taken out of Iran by the late shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, belongs to the Iranian government. So far the United states, in messages to Iran, has said that it would assist the Iranians in facilitating any legal action they wish to bring in this country to seize any American assets of the former shah.
White House officials confirmed that Carter, in an interview Wednesday on a Pittsburgh radio station, said he doubted that hostages will be released before Election Day. But yesterday Carter refused to repeat that assessment when asked about it on the campaign trail, saying only, "Obviously we'd like to get it over with but we have no control over it."
Another potentially complicating factor is the projected U.S. supply to Iran of several hundred million dollars in military spare parts that were paid for before the hostages were seized and the United States blocked further trade with Iran.
The State and Defense departments disclosed yesterday that some of these spare parts, ammunition and equipment have been diverted to U.S. military use, with payment for the items placed in a trust fund which is maintained by the Pentagon for Iran. Neither the State Department nor Pentagon would specify what items have been sold, or what items would be delivered to Iran in connection with the hostage release under a pledge repeated by Carter Tuesday night in the debate with GOP presidential nominee Ronald Reagan.