From time to time, various Iranians have indicated that their country might finally be ready to discuss the release of the American diplomats held captive there.

Reaction among Americans has always been varied, just as it is varied in the wake of this latest indication from Iran that the hostages could be released within a few days.

Some of us experience a surge of hope each time we hear something of this kind. Others, aware of the unreliability of all news from the Middle East, are skeptical of everything they hear. A third group distrusts our own government rather than the Iranians. These people say, "Didn't I tell you that Carter would time the release of the prisoners for his own political advantage?"

I feel sorry for people who make such harsh yet baseless accusations. They have blotted from their minds the incontrovertible fact that nobody in Iran has had the power to enforce a political decision without the approval of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. They have disregarded the simple truth that the ayatollah operates his own rules, the first of which, apparently, is: "Be unpredictable."

During the time our people have been held, there has been nobody with whom to negotiate. Nobody. Yet uncounted Carter-haters believe that Carter made a deal with somebody.

The Carter administration has done everything it could to free the hostages, preferably by peaceful means but on one occasion through a military incursion that risked war.

Neither the Iranian reaction to our efforts nor the timing of that reaction has ever been subject to our control.

If it had suited the Iranians, they could have begun negotiations long ago. If it didn't suit them earlier but does suit them now, this is obviously a development that was not caused by any American, and cannot be affected by any American -- not even that great 20-20 hindsight strategist, Ronald Reagan.

Therefore it flies in the face of known facts to accuse Carter of deliberately delaying the release of the hostages until just before the election.

Yet this is what one hears frequently from people who phone radio talk shows, and a little of it has also turned up in the mail and phone calls that have come my way. People say they "just knew" Carter would pull something like this.

I find myself wondering: Where have these people been for the last 11 months? Have they paid any attention at all to dispatches from Iran?

About a hundred years ago, Josh Billings made the comment, "It is better to know nothing than to know what ain't so." People of his era thought Billings was a humorist. I think he was quite a sage.

If Josh were alive today, I think he would be saddened by the unjustified abuse that is being heaped upon the Carter administration: It is being called inept because it couldn't persuade the ayatollah to negotiate.

In other matters, Carter's lack of success may have been caused by ineptness, but in this matter nothing short of war would have worked because the man in charge in Iran hates the United States with a passion.

The ayatollah's hatred does not mark President Carter as inept. And the ayatollah's hatred is not a rational basis for alleging that Carter has manipulated the timing of the hostage negotiations. THE WASHINGTON POST REGRETS

Cleo C. Talbot of Arlington has sent me a paragraph clipped from an Oct.

21 news story in our Metro section. The story said:

"Last week, Fisher took to privately pouring over the amendment almost daily to assure himself of his original interpretation. Wolf staffers, meanwhile, waxed conciliatory as they collected more information on Fisher's prior record."

Mrs. Talbott wants to know what Fisher has been pouring over the amendment. She hopes Wolf staffers finish their waxing in time to preserve whatever legibility is left to the amendment.

Leonard Greenberg of Reston sent me a clipping of one of our baseball stories and commented: "You will note that 'carom' is spelled with a double-o the first time and a double-r the second time. Despairing of getting it right the writer tried 'ricochet' next but couldn't get that right, either." i

Would anybody else like to plunge his knife into us? You might as well; we're already bleeding from every pour.