The Carter administration yesterday put on alert a 30-member team of officials to go to West Germany and receive the 52 American hostages and then -- along with the American people -- waited expectantly to see whether Iran will agree to the U.S. plan to end the captives' 14-month ordeal.
Among those designated as part of the team is former secretary of state Cyrus Vance, who was in office when the hostage crisis began on Nov. 4, 1979, and who resigned last May as a protest against the abortive U.S. military rescus mission attempted the month before.
The State Department, however, said the team that will go to Wiesbaden, West Germany, where the hostages are expected to be taken for a period of rest and recuperation, will be headed by Ben. H. Read, under secretary for management.
As of last night, a response on the draft agreement still had not been received from Tehran, which received the lastest U.S. proposals about midday yesterday.U.S. officials, noting that some aspects of the plan were still being clarified through Algerian intermediaries, said their expectation was that they would not get an answer from the Iranians before today at the earliest.
But, despite a blitz of contradictory unofficial signals from the Iranian news media, the mood among administration officials continued to reflect what White House press secretary Jody Powell called "the mix of optimism and pessimism" expressed Friday when the U.S. proposal was hammered out in a marathon series of meetings and indirect contacts stretching from Washington through Algiers to Tehran.
Optimism still appeared to be the dominant emotion in official circles. But, as to the question of whether an agreement can be worked out in time for the hostages' release before President Carter surrenders his office to Ronald Regan at noon on Tuesday, Powell said: "We're about where we left you yesterday [Friday]."
One shart note in the day's events was an outburst of official U.S. anger at what was termed "scurrilous propaganda" in the Soviet press contending that the United States is preparing for an armed attack against Iran under cover of America's "dishonorable game" over the hostages. Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie summoned Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin to deliver an unusually strong protest.
According to State Department spokesman John Trattner, Muskie told Dobrynin that "that these absolutely unfounded Soviet charges . . . appear designed to affect the outcome of the hostage negotations." Trattner said Muskie "demanded an immediate end to the scurrilous propaganda and warned Dobrynin of the serious and lasting effects it could have on U.S.-Soviet relations and U.S. public opinion."
At the White House, Powell called the Soviet actions "a despicable manner of behavior on the part of a government which expects and does enjoy the traditional benefits" accorded to persons with diplomatic status such as that held by most of the American captives at the time they were made hostages.
Powell also singled out Dobrynin, who is dean of the diplomatic corps in Washington, as "someone who has certainly enjoyed in this town all the respect and amenities that a diplomat has come to expect."
In a meeting with reporters outside Blair House, Reagan said he agreed with the White House denunciation of the Soviet assertion, but declined to comment otherwise on the hostage negotiations.
The Carter administration's activities also were focused on what various officials described as "deck-clearing, contingency planning" aimed both at putting the complex agreement into effect, if it wins Iran's approval, and taking care of the hostages after they are freed.
In broad outline, the main elements of the plan call for an international agreement between the two governments that would see the United States put part of the Iranian financial assets frozen in this country into escrow with Algeria or some other designated, neutral third country. Then, the hostages would be released and, once they are safely out of Iran, the funds would be transferred to Iranian control.
The two main categories of assets to be transferred immediately are about $2.2 billion that had been held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and more than $4 billion deposited in the European branches of American banks.
On Friday, the United States, through a swap with the Bank of England, transferred 1.6 million ounces of gold, worth about $1 billion, to London. It also began converting approximately $1.2 billion in U.S. government securities owned by Iran into cash to facilitate its transfer.
The big sticking point involving the second category -- the $4 billion in overseas branches of American banks -- stemmed from the problem of loans that had been made by some of these banks to Iran during the reign of the late shah.When the United States froze Iranian assets after the hostages were taken, the banks were permitted to use some of these Iranian government funds to pay off the loan balances.
In intensive negotiations Friday with representatives of 12 major banks, the administration tackled the problem of how to restore that part of the funds that had been taken to satisfy the loans. The American bankers were concerned that Iran might decide not to pay off the loans, thereby saddling them with losses that could expose them to stockholder suits.
Although the full details were not known, reliable sources said the negotiations Friday had resulted in agreement on steps satisfactory to the banks. The sources added that steps were being taken yesterday to get the accounts involved restored to their original condition and in shape to be transferred if an accord is reached with Iran.
The bank representatives met again yesterday with Treasury Secretary G. William Miller, but officials said the session's purpose primarily was to have them available to help out in case technical problems or questions arose in the continuing indirect negotiations with Tehran.
These negotiations continued into the night yesterday with the Algerian foreign ministry and Deputy Secretary of State Waren M. Christopher, who is in Algiers, serving as the transmission point for exchanges between Washington and Tehran.
Christopher is known to have had two and possibly more contacts with Tehran yesterday, but Trattner and other officials said they involved Iranian requests for clarification of certain points and could not be regarded as a response by Iran to the American plan. The officials said some of the back-and-forth involving Christopher dealt with questions on aspects of the proposed agreement separate from the assets transfer.
A note of confusion was introduced into the situation by Trattner's statement that the message sent from Washington late Friday night was "a message of information" dealing with "facts and figures" and was not, as Powell said earlier, the proposed text of the agreement.
Reliable sources said later that both spokesmen were correct. While conceding that the message's main purpose had been to convey factual information to Tehran, they added that it also contained extensive amounts of language that are expected to be incorporated into the agreement, when and if it is reached.
All this activity came against a background of press and radio statements from Iran that, in some cases, appeared encouraging and, in others, seemed to indicate that a speedy agreement was unlikely. However, Trattner said in response to questions about whether there were problems, "Christopher's exahanges with Tehran have no relationship to what you're seeing [in the Iranian press reports]."
He also said that the team on standby to go to Wiesbaden under Read's direction will include physicians, psychologists, administrative support personnel, officers from the State Department's Mideast affairs bureau and press spokesmen. Arrangements were made months ago to take the hostages in Wiesbaden for medical care and an unwinding period before their return to the United States.