The Carter administration yesterday rejected an Iranian call for the United States to respond quickly to Iran's conditions for the release of the American hostages and to publicize the response "through mass media."
State Department spokesman John Trattner, while refusing to say he was replying directly to the latest Iranian move, said the United States will "move with deliberation and care" in formulating its answers to the Iranian conditions.
He added: "We cannot and will not negotiate our relations with other countries through the press."
Trattner made that statement after Iran's Foreign Ministry disclosed that it had asked the Algerian ambassador here "to ask the U.S. government to announce its response . . . as soon as possible and to inform the world through mass media."
Administration sources said President Carter and his senior foreign policy advisers have yet to make a final decision about either the nature or detail of the U.S. response to the conditions voted Sunday by the Iranian parliament as the price for freeing the 52 Americans taken hostage one year ago.
Thus it is still uncertain whether the United States will accept the Iranian conditions in broad principle, while reserving some details for later determination, or whether it will limit its response to a statement of what the United States is prepared to do, or whether it will simply seek to probe for further details and maneuvering room in the Iranian conditions as announced.
Iran's Foreign Ministry said yesterday that a U.S. message received through the Swiss Embassy Monday was "in some details, at variance" with the decisions of the parliament. Administration sources said Iran appeared to be expressing concern about a reiteration of standard U.S. positions that was presented in Tehran with authority from Washington.
At the State Department, the spokesman noted that the official English and Persian-language versions of the conditions decreed by the parliament were received only Monday afternoon. He said these documents were being analyzed carefully and added that he could not say how long it would take to come up with responses or counterproposals to the four Iranian conditions.
Trattner also said the department had translated the Persian version of the conditions into English and was using that as the basis of its search for clues about whether the Iranian demands are meant literally or are subject to interpretation allowing further negotiation.
Part of the reason for using the Persian version became clear yesterday when the department released the text of the English translation made by Tehran. It obviously had been prepared by some one with an imperfect knowledge of English and was filled with grammatical errors, words used incorrectly and legalisms thrown together in a manner that made big portions difficult to understand or aid a search for nuances. Despite the imperfections of the English-language document, it did seem to approximate rather closely the unofficial translations made Sunday when the parliament publicly announced the conditions.
In broad outline, they call for the United States to promise not to interfere in Iran's affairs, to free Iranian assets frozen in this country to drop all American govermental and private claims against Iran and to return the wealth of the late shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The last two points -- those involving claims and the shah's wealth -- involve some difficult legal problems that could be beyond the power of the executive branch to resolve. For that reason, the administration is anxious to determine whether the Iranian demands on these points are meant literally or are susceptible to some flexibility on Tehran's part.
In that respect, the English version made public yesterday appeared unenlightening. It did soften some of the terminology that appeared in the unofficial translations made Sunday, referring for example to "the deceased shah" rather than "the eternally damned shah" and calling the captives "hostages" instead of "spies," but it gave no real sign of whether there is flexibility in the Iranian position.
Algerian Ambassador Redha Malek, who represents Iranian interests here, canferred for an hour yesterday with Deputy Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher. Although department officials would not say so directly, it was presumed that he presented Christopher with the Iranian call for a quick U.S. response.
U.S. officials said the main purpose of the meeting was to continue discussions on Algeria's role as an intermediary in future communications between Washington and Tehran. Algeria is expected to be the prinicipal go-between in any negotiations over the hostages, but the impression of U.S. officials is that Melek and his embassy staff are not yet full clear on what part they may play in the diplomatic back-and-forth.