The chief Iranian negotiator in the American hostage crisis has indignantly denied U.S. charges that the captives were mistreated during their 444-day confinement, the official Pars news agency said early today.
In the first official Iranian reaction to the charges Wednesday by some of the 52 hostges, Behzad Nabavi said Iran had videotaped interviews with the hostages in which they said they had been treated well and had no complaints.
"If necessary, we will transmit all of them [the interviews] through satellite for the judgment of the people of the world. Then it will be known which is the lair, Washington or Tehran," Nabavi was quoted as saying.
He said that Iran had "expected this kind of libel" and charged that the hostages had been brainwashed during what he called their compulsory stay at a U.S. military hospital in Wiesbaden, West Germany.
Nabavi, who is Iran's government spokesman and executive affairs minister, said that by raising claims of mistreatment of the hostages, U.S. politicians were trying to prepare world opinion for the United States to disregard the hostage accord.
Nabavi said the hostages were "ungrateful and do not understand the meaning of kindness."
He added that former president Carter, who visited the hostages in Wiesbaden, and his successors would like to break the U.S.-Iranian agreement on the captives' release signed before they were flown to freedom Tuesday.
"If the United States of America does so, then it means that the U.S. government, despite all commitments, does not respect its internal and international laws as well," he said.
Meanwhile, in what appeared to be the beginning of the expected political battle over the hostage deal, a liberal Iranian newspaper criticized the government's handling of the hostage issue and questioned whether the affair was the victory for the nation that the fundamentalist Islamic leadership claims.
"Finally the hostage-taking is over and the spies are gone," the newspaper Mizan said. "But our people could have seen this issue resolved sooner and better."
The newspaper is published by Mehdi Bazargan, the first prime minister under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Bazargan resigned Nov. 4, 1979, the day the hostages were seized.
The newspaper accused the government of trying to stifle criticism of its actions and asked: "Why are we so happy? Why are government and the speaker of the Majlis [parliament] calling this a big victory and congratuating one another?"
National radio and television continued to pour out anti-American propaganda, calling the hostage deal "a victory for Iran" and "a defeat for the Great Satan," in a reference to the United States.
The official Pars news agency reported that Khomeini said the outcome of the hostage issue was one of the greatest achievements of the revolutionary movement.
The issue clearly has widened the breach between the religious leaders and President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, who issued a statement denying all knowledge of the final negotiations that led to the release of the hostages.
The clergy-controlled Islamic Republic newspaper said today the hostage issue "showed that it is possible to stand in a world full of injustice, coercion, violence and aggression, fight against oppressive criminal systems and win."
Another daily, the Islamic Revolution, which supports Bani-Sadr and is often critical of the clergy-dominated government, carried an editorial saying Iran so far had received $2.7 billion of its frozen assets under the agreement that freed the hostages.
Iran originally asked for $24 billion.
Meanwhile, a Swiss diplomat who counted the American hostages as they boarded their plane to freedom said today he panicked briefly when his list showed one hostage missing.
Swiss Ambassador Erik Lang and First Secretary Flavio Meroni went on the Algerian Boeing 727 airliner before the hostages on Tuesday and asked them to sign their names on a list numbered 1 to 52 as they boarded.
Meroni said that, when the last one had boarded, he noticed there appeared to be only 51 names.
"I must admit I panicked briefly," he said. "Then I noticed that one of the hostages had squeezed in an extra number at the bottom of one page after number 40."