SO IRAN NOW demands that the United States put up $24 billion in the equivalent of ransom against the return of the hostages. The proposal is not simply disappointing. It is grotesque and offensive. The Iranians, who committed the grossly illegal that the United States set aside its own laws, as it would have to do the meet the new terms. They, who have been condemned throughout the world for their violation of practice and obligation in this matter, propose a solution resting on a premise of American bad faith. The administration has been ready to roll back the clock to the day the hostages were seized and to forgo demanding of Iran, as Americans have every right to demand, that it pay for its assault on the liberty of 50-odd Americans. Procedures to put this offer into effect could never have been easy to work out. But Iran's prposals are a sick-joke. It would make more sense of the Iranians to put up $24 billion than the other way around.

This "final" Iranian response comes as a bitter culmination of American efforts to undo a grievous and, for the administration, politically costly humiliation. The result is also the logical culmination of the administration's post-raid decision to try to negotiate. With a regime ready if not determined to make a fair deal, a negotiation might have succeeded. But with the Islamic revolutionary regime in Tehran, neither readiness nor determination has been evident. Its performance has revealed priorities, arising from its internal dynamics, quite different from completing a negotiation and reclaiming the benefits of normal relations with the rest of the world. This is not to say Jimmy Carter was wrong to see if Iran could be dealt with as a state motivated by conventional considerations of national interest, and to try to enter a real negotiation. He did what he had to do at the time. Certainly he negotiated -- as the world can now see, thanks to Iran's broadcasting of the details -- in good faith. The fact remains that the negotiation has washed out.

Patriotism and self-interest alike had made Ronald Reagan cheer Jimmy Carter on, but now the burden will be his. The question is whether he will pick up on his predecessor's patient, studied, conventional manner of neogtiation or whether he will seek out a new style of his own, one based on his own conception of leadership and his own political and strategic perceptions. Iran's evident contempt for Jimmy Carter's way has made it hard to think of any fresh approach Ronald Reagan could take that would not win broad popular support.