The Reagan administration called on Iran yesterday to try the killers of two American officials who died in last week's airline hostage episode or to extradite the hijackers to a country where they will be tried.
This appeal, from State Department spokesman John Hughes, was among the few things the administration was willing to say about Iran while two other Americans who survived the hostage ordeal remain in Tehran. Officials said they anticipate that the two, Agency for International Development auditor Charles Kapar and New York businessman John Costa, will be flown out of Iran today.
Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, reported from Tehran that Iranian authorities said little about what they plan to do with the four hijackers who were captured when Iranian security men stormed a Kuwaiti jet at Tehran airport Sunday. The news agency quoted "a junior Foreign Ministry official" at the airport as having said the hijackers would be put on trial but indicated there was no word of a decision from higher-ups.
State Department officials said they had no information that earlier hijackings this year of an Air France jet and a Saudi airlines jet, both of which ended at Tehran airport, had led to trial of the hijackers or other penalties against them in Iran. There were no fatalities in either of those cases, however.
Hughes, in suggesting extradition "to a country where they would be tried" if Iran declines to take action on its own, said he "would think Kuwait is the appropriate country." The hijackers, who were reported by AFP to speak Arabic with a Lebanese accent, had demanded the release of 17 terrorists held by Kuwait in the bombing of the U.S. and French embassies and other buildings in Kuwait last December.
Kuwait refused to consider meeting the demand of the hijackers for release of the terrorists held in its prisons, a stand that won praise yesterday from President Reagan in a message to the ruling emir of Kuwait, Jabvir Ahmed Sabah.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said Reagan told the Kuwaiti ruler that only by adopting such a "firm stand" could the international community "hope to counter acts of violence and bring perpetrators of such crimes to justice."
Speakes said no message was sent to the Iranians after the airplane assault that freed the remaining hostages Sunday.
Some U.S. officials continued to be privately critical of Iran for not taking swifter and more effective action against the hijackers, and there continued to be speculation in official circles that the storming of the airliner Sunday was an arranged surrender to save face all around. Iranian officials have insisted that they did all they could as quickly as they could in keeping with prudence and concern for the safety of the hostages.
Speakes said the two surviving Americans are reported to be in "basically good condition" at a facility at Tehran airport.
The bodies of the two Americans who were killed, Charles Hegna and William Stanford of the Agency for International Development, are being requested from Iranian authorities by the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which has represented U.S. interests there since Washington broke off diplomatic relations in April 1980. The State Department was unable to say yesterday when or where the bodies will be returned.