Iran is prepared to pay its debts to American banks and corporations and even set aside money in escrow accounts for that purpose, according to Ali Reza Nobari, head of Iran's central bank and one of those involved in drafting the conditions for release of the 52 American hostages.
Nobari conceded, in a telephone interview from Tehran, that the "writing is not clear" on the third condition which is being interpreted in Washington as requiring the U.S. government to cancel all corporate claims now filed against Iran in American courts.
He emphasized that "we do not want ransom" for the hostages in the form of having the U.S. government assume payment of any legitimate claims an American company has against Iran.
The confusion, he said, came from the latter portion of the third condition which would require the United States to assume responsibility for paying any claims arising out of lawsuits filed by the hostages or their families against the Khomeini government as a result of the U.S. Embassy takeover by the militants.
Iran won't pay any judgments in those lawsuits, he said, referring to them as "ransom to the hostages."
Top State Department officials familiar with Iran reacted cautiously yesterday to Nobari's statements. "What authority does he have to say that?" ywas the question raised.
If Nobari's proposal in fact represents the position of the Iranian government and parliament, it could go a long way in making the conditions for hostage release acceptable to the U.S. government.
Nobari, a close political associate of Iranian President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, acknowledged there was confusion within the Tehran government over the exact meaning of the conditions, but added, "I know this is what they wanted done."
He then outlined a procedure on how the more than $3 billion in claims of some 300 American banks and corporations, now before U.S. courts, could be handled.
"We have given our word we will pay out debts," Nobari said, "but if they don't trust us we can arrange for an escrow account to be established in a third country."
He said that a "high commission" could be established with one Iranian member, one American member and one member from the third country. That commission "would make judgments" on the American claims and they would be paid from the Iranian funds in the escrow account, he said.
The third condition for release of the hostages, according to the official English-language translation received in Washington Monday, called for "cancellation and annulment of all the claims and demands made by the government of the United States of America and American companies against Iran under any title whatsoever . . . ."
American officials who have studied the four conditions, approved Sunday by the Iranian parliament, have seen this provision as a major stumbling block.
Nobari said he had expected the Carter administration to accept the general principles of the conditions, with the details to be worked out later. He blamed the confusion of language in the third condition on the fact that it was "written hurriedly."
The Iranian official voiced surprise at the criticism in the United States of the conditions on the return of the Iranian assets and the handling of the claims.
The Nobari proposal, if it turns out to be the Iranian position, would go a long way in overcoming problems that U.S. government officials and corporation lawyers have found in the conditions as they were approved by the Iranian parliament.
With the Iranian assets frozen in American accounts, the legal claims against Iran could yield some payoff if the courts eventually make some awards.
If the president should revoke the freeze, however, it is unclear whether Iran would be able to remove its money or whether court orders obtained by American claimants would keep it in the country, frozen this time by judicial orders.
The second of Iran's four conditions recognizes the legal situation surrounding the frozen assets. It requires the United States to eliminate these court orders so that Iran could make use of its funds as it wishes.
Under a ruling by a U.S. District Court in New York, when the president's freeze is lifted, the Iranian government and central bank funds can no longer be blocked by a court order because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity. That says that the funds of a government cannot be subject to a legal claim.
The principal reason that American companies and banks want the Iranian assets to remain frozen in this country is to keep them available to pay their claims. Thus, if Iran creates a special escrow fund to cover such claims, there would be no need for continued legal maneuvering over the now-frozen assets.
One reason Nobari seems willing to create an escrow fund that could total more than $3 billion is that the funds now caught up in the president's freeze approach $11 billion by official U.S. estimates and $14 billion according to Nobari.