OBVIOUSLY Iran thought it had something to gain by violating the secrecy in which negotiations for a hostage settlement were being conducted. If so, Iran miscalculated. Publication of the American terms gives the American and international publics alike the opportunity to see just how arrogant and unreasonable the Iranian negotiators have been.

To get back the hostages, the administration was offering first of all to pledge no interference in Iran's internal affairs.It was agreeing to release Iran's frozen assets, in return for Iran's agreement to waive its sovereign immunity from American claims and to accept a binding adjudication of them.It was inviting Iran to pursue the late shah's properties in the United States "in accordance with U.S. law." The administration was even ready to give Algerian middlemen the relevant presidential orders, to become effective upon release of the American captives.

As is known, the Iranians turned down this offer, saying among other things that the United States should put up as collateral $24 billion in cash, not simply a sheaf of pre-signed presidential documents. Whatever you think of it, the offer was certainly responsive to their original conditions. That should be obvious to everyone.

In fact, it's hard to read this story without feeling that Jimmy Carter went too far. It's not simply the squishiness of some of the terms. For instance, Iran gets physical control of some of its assets right off and access in American courts to others, while American claims are funneled to an "international claims settlement process" that not only doesn't exist yet but whose functioning depends heavily on Iranian good faith. The administration contends that it merely agreed to thaw those Iranian assets it froze a year ago, and in a way that preserves or even improves the position of American claimants. But it acknowledges the difficulty of selling, let alone putting into effect, its terms.

But there's another problem. Imbedded in the American terms is a presumption of Iranian civility that is both galling and unearned. The whole idea that the United States must negotiate with kidnappers is bad enough. The whole experience of dealing with Iran for the last year shows the foolishness of relying on the Iranians to make good on their word. They have toyed with the United States, with the Carter administration, acting out their revolutionary fantasies and their political controversies in a contemptible and ultimately misleading way. The proof lies in their dismissal, as though the hostages were just another rug in the bazaar, of an offer than many Americans will regret was made at all.

It may all be irrelevant now that Iran has rejected what are surely the most generous terms -- as though the United States had any obligation to be generous -- that the Iranians could ever expect. The Carter clock is winding down. The Iranians have evidently chosen, whether they are aware of it yet or not, to deal with Ronald Reagan. He will have the chance, and obligation, to compose his own policy with an aroused and virtually united public behind him.