The Reagan administration said yesterday it intends to review the agreement with Iran that led to Tuesday's release of the American hostages before moving to implement the remaining provisions.
"The entire matter is under consideration," a senior White House official told reporters, terming it "only prudent" to study the record.
But press secretary James S. Brady cautioned that "this country remains bound by the terms of internnational law and custom. . . . The spirit of that is not to abrogate" the agreement.
Four controversial provisions of the complex financial agreement remain to be implemented by the Reagan administration.
The turnover, partly to Iran and partly to an international claims commission, of an additional $4 billion in bank deposits and other Iranian assets still frozen in this country.
A presidential order prohibiting any of the released hostages and their families from suing Iran for injuries resulting from their imprisonment.
Court actions by the government, once the international claimes tribunal is established, to nullify 388 lawsuits in U.S. courts by claimants seeking $3 billion from Iran.
Freezing of the assets of the late shah and his relatives in the United States.
The executive orders implementing these actions were released yesterday and showed that former president Carter signed four of them prematurely, according to his report to Congress, which was also made public.
The four orders, according to the Carter report, were to be signed "upon the release of the hostages," an event that took place on Jan. 20. The Carter executive orders, however, were signed and dated Jan. 19.
A Washington attorney with experience as a high-ranking government lawyer said yesterday it could be interpreted that Carter "was attempting to extend his power beyond the end of his term" when he signed those orders.
But a former top Carter aide said the mistake was made by the drafter of the report, and that executive orders "often were signed ahead of time."
One concern of the Reagan officials, according to sources, is that there may be additional requirements or matters about which they have not yet been informed.
An Iranian source said yesterday that there is a document entitled "special undertakings" that has been kept secret at the request of the Algerian intermediaries. That document, which spells out the implementation of some financial arrangements in the agreement, has been given to the Reagan White House, one source said late yesterday.
Brady said that President Reagan wants to meet with former deputy secretary of state Warren Christopher and other members of the American team that negotiated the agreement.
At a hearing yesterday in U.S. District Court here, a Justice Department lawyer told Judge Gerhard A. Gesell that it was "not entirely clear at this point" when the new administration would take its next legal steps to implement the agreement. The lawyer, David Anderson, told Gesell that, "obviously there is a new secretary of the treasury" and "a lot of people need to be brought up to speed."
Gesell thereafter denied the first motion by a group of claimants against Iran who were seeking to block the government from moving $50 million in frozen assets under terms of the hostage release agreement.
In making his ruling, Gesell said the president's legal power to enter into this agreement is "beyond question," a statement that will help the government in any future effort to have the court suits ended as required by terms of the agreement.
Meanwhile, Washington echoed yesterday with a spate of rumors that the new administration was thinking of abrogating the agreement.
Fueling the speculation was a lead editorial in The Wall Street Journal headlined "Renounce the Deal."
Then there was the failure yesterday of the Reagan White House to issue the executive orders or to send them to be printed in the federal Register.
The package of 10 executive orders was waiting in the White House when the Reagan team arrived Jan. 20. In the normal course of things, they would have been made public and shipped off to be printed in the register.
But apparently these key Carter orders were held up, and now are expected to be sent for printing in the Friday register, according to one administration source.
In the face of the delay, one wire service reported yesterday that register publication of documents lifting the trade embargo with Iran had been canceled by the State Department. But an employe at the Federal Register said the order had never been received.
Adding to the suspicion that there was a holdup was the fact that another regulation related to the hostages, a noncontroversial one by the State Department setting out special benefits for the released Americans, was sent to be printed, yesterday.
One additional reason for delay within the Reagan administration may be the manner in which the Carter order plans to handle the remaining frozen assets.
American banks holding securities and deposits are directed to transfer them to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York "as soon as possible." There they would be held or transferred at the direction of the treasury secretary.
Nonbanking institutions and individuals holding "funds or securities" belonging to Iran also are ordered to transfer them to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Persons holding other types of frozen Iranian property are directed by the Carter order to "transfer such properties, as directed after the effective date of this order by the government of Iran."
The effective date for all these orders is Jan. 19.
The Carter order that prohibits the former hostages from filing suits against Iran may be giving the Reagan administration trouble because it comes at a time when anger at the treatment of the 52 Americans is growing.
The Treasury Department has already drawn up regulations to implement that order but it has yet to be made public.
The United States at the time of the hostage release turned over about $7.9 billion in cash and gold to Iran's overall total of some $12 billion in frozen assets.
However, $3.7 billion of that first chunk was destined to repay loans by American banks to the regime of the late shah. Another $1.4 billion went into an escrow account for the repayment of loans those same American banks had made to Iranian government entities and companies during the shah's rule.
The Tehran government was left with a net of only $2.8 billion of its money up to now.
As the agreement was drafted, another $1 billion out of the remaining $4 billion is to go into a second escrow account, this one to be used to pay off the remaining American companies who take their claims to the international triubnal.
About 300 companies or individuals have sued the Iranian government to recover alleged losses suffered through breach of contract, unpaid debts and seizure of equipment or other assets in Iran. These suits, totaling more than $3 billion, involve some of the largest corporations in the United States:
General Telephone & Electronics ($100 million for breach of contract); Du Pont ($93 million for losses on a synthetic textile plant); Xerox ($85 million for expropriation of property); Sedco Inc. ($175 million for expropriation of oil drilling equipment), as well as smaller claims from American Telephone & Telegraph, Brown & Root, Fluor and others.
An unspecified number of these companies have succeeded in attaching the assets or bank deposits of Iranian firms or banks in this country. For example, Electronic Data Systems of Dallas has a $20 million attachment order against Iranian funds on deposit at the Marine Midland Bank in New York City.
The apparent effect of the Iranian-American financial agreement would be to revoke attachments, already granted by federal judges and transfer the claims seeking process from U.S. courts to an international tribunal in which the U.S. government would appoint only one-third of the members.
Although there were suggestions yesterday that this was a setback for the companies, the interests of the firms differ and there is, as yet, no sign of a consensus among the companies on the terms of the hostage deal.
Most company lawyers reached yesterday said they needed more time to study the presidential executive orders before passing judgment.
Electronic Data Systems is the only company that could be identified as having won an attachment order prior to the Nov. 14, 1979, government-ordered freeze on assets. Therefore, on eosurce said, its position was unique.
Ninety percent of the 3,000 companies or individuals with claims against Iran have not sued in court and are attempting instead to work out their problems, with Iran privately. For these firms, the agreement sets up a pool of funds, called a security account, which will be available for payment of legitimate claims. Such a pool has not existed until now. And for other firms , the agreement is seen as a possible way to get business back on track.
General Electric, for example, hopes to complete the nearly finished refrigerator plant it had been building north of Tehran in a joint venture with an Iranian company. A company official said General Electric's interest in the venture has not been taken over. In addition, the official said, Iran has sought in the last few months to set up meetings with General Electric to discuss completion of the plant. These business discussions were, however, prohibited under the Carter administration's economic boycott against Iran.
An official of that company suggested that renunciation of the hostage release agreement would be "nonsense" that would "harm international markets and our relations with the Middle East, particularly with the Saudis who want to invest here [in the United States]."
Nevertheless, other companies in less favorable positions are expected th challenge former presidnet Carter's authority to annul attachment orders and to lift the freeze on Iranian assets before U.S. firms have been compensated for court-validated losses.