President Carter conferred with key aides at Camp David yesterday about the next step in the effort to free the 52 American hostages in Iran, but reliable sources said a decision about a new U.S. move probably won't be made for two or three days.
The sources described the meeting as a discussion of how to reply to Iran's Request for clarification about some of the points in the U.S. proposal for meeting the four conditions set by the Iranian parliament for resolution of the impasse over the hostages.
Leading the team that met with Carter was Deputy Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, who went to Algiers on Nov. 10 to deliver the still-secret U.S. response to Algerian officials. Iran's revolutionary leaders, who have refused to have any direct contact with the United States, had designated Algeria to act as intermediary in the diplomatic tug of war over the hostages.
The Iranians are known to be dissatisfied with some aspects of the U.S. response. Last week, the three Algerian envoys who took the U.S. proposals to Tehran came here for detailed meetings with Christopher to explain the points about which Iran wants more information.
State Department officials said Friday that work was beginning immediately on a new U.S. reply. They added yesterday that the Camp David meeting was intended to bring the president up to date on the situation and to weigh various options for responding to Tehran.
In addition to Christopher, those who went to Camp David, where Carter has been spending the Thanksgiving holidays, were White House counsel Lloyd Cutler and those officials who worked with Christopher on formulating the original U.S. response: Robert Carswell, deputy treasury secretary, Harold H. Saunders, assistant secretary of state for Mideast affairs, and Roberts Owen, the State Department's legal adviser.
Secretary of State Edmond S. Muskie, who also has been closely involved in directing the effort, was on an official visit to Mexico yesterday.
The sources stressed that no decisions have been made yet about how the new U.S. response will be conveyed to Iran when it is prepared and approved by Carter. Whether Christopher will go to Algiers again or some other method will be used has not yet been determined, they added.
The four demands made by the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, call for a U.S. pledge not to intervene in Iran's affairs, the freeing of Iranian assets in this country frozen by Carter, the dropping of all U.S. claims against Iran and the return to Iran of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's wealth.
Iranian leaders have said they regard the U.S. response on the first two of these conditions as satisfactory.However, problems are known to exist over the demands involving the dropping of claims -- a matter that could cause the Iranian assets here to be tied up in lengthy legal proceedings once they are unfrozen -- and the return of the shah's wealth.
The U.S. response is understood to have stressed that, under American law, the president's ability to meet these conditions is limited. When Christopher went to Algiers, reliable sources said the American response on these two points was limited essentially to an explanation of the legal constraints on the president and a "good faith" offer to help Iran pursue its case through the U.S. courts or seek some other mutually acceptable solution.
However, statements by Iranian leaders have indicated that Tehran is unwilling, at this point, to accept such gestures as sufficient. How Washington will respond now is unclear, since it is not known whether the original American response laid out the maximum, steps that the Carter administration is willing to take or whether some possible additional concessions were held back for bargaining purposes.