Hostage Breakthrough

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But on Tuesday, the rising spirits sagged once again. Iran's chief hostage negotiator, Behzad Nabavi, had urged the Majlis, the Iranian parliament, to take emergency action to pass two bills that would expedite settlement of the hostage issue. One would authorize arbitration of disputes involving Iranian assets in the U.S. The other would nationalize all assets of the late Shah, thus making Iran's claims to his property more legally defensible. But when the Majlis met to consider the two bills, a required quorum of the twelve-man Council of Guardians, a group of six clerics and six laymen who determine whether the parliament's actions conform to Islamic law, was not present. American diplomats feared that Iran's hard-line clerics had boycotted the session to block any agreement.

Still, the Christopher party stayed on in Algiers. While Christopher's staff worked in the embassy offices, he remained more secluded in the Ambassador's residence. Despite the air of calm, something seemed to be happening. Up to 40 cables a day labeled FLASH (meaning top priority) clattered into the State Department from its envoys in Algiers.

With little public notice, a judge in Switzerland, responding to claims lodged by Swiss lawyers representing Iran's central bank, ordered the Shah's villa in the ski resort of St. Moritz to be held under a writ of attachment barring its sale or alteration. The Shah had paid some $2 million for it in 1968. Iranian officials claimed that they have gained similar court sanctions against 13 other assets of the Shah's family in Switzerland, including a $440,000 Geneva apartment owned by Princess Ashraf, the Shah's sister.

On Wednesday, Iran's erratic parliament finally provided a public flash of decisive action that illuminated the long hostage tunnel. Now members of the Council of Guardians settled into their front-row, red leather seats to observe the historic four-hour debate. Ostensibly at issue was the outside arbitration bill, but the real quarrel was over whether to resolve finally the hostage problem.

The advocates of ending the affair portrayed the pending agreement—inaccurately—as a complete capitulation by the U.S. "Politically, we have got a fantastic victory," claimed Nabavi. "A superpower has been pushed to the conclusion that it promised not to interfere in Iranian affairs any more. We have made such a great power confess and put it to paper." Summed up Nabavi: "The hostages are like a ripe fruit from which all the juice has been squeezed out. Let them all go."

Still, there were catcalls and jeers as the argument raged on. "Is this the end of the revolution?" asked Amin Nasseri, an opponent of the bill. "Don't we say there is no difference between Carter and Reagan?" Hassan Ayat, an Islamic fundamentalist, raised a flurry of detailed questions in objecting to the pending agreement. The tart-tongued speaker, Hojatolislam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, asked anyone who agreed with Ayat to stand up. No one did. Scoffed one supporter of the legislation: "This Mr. Ayat thinks he is the scholar of all the parliaments in the world. The things that he is talking about, all these small details, it means months and months we can sit in parliament."

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