NICOSIA, Cyprus — Iranian Prime Minister Hussein Moussavi on Wednesday appeared to rule out any chance that Iran might help free the remaining American hostages in Lebanon, saying there is "no possibility whatsoever" of negotiations between Iran and the United States.
Moussavi's remarks, reported by Tehran radio and monitored here, contradicted the remarks of another Iranian official, who only Tuesday had offered to intercede in the hostage crisis if the United States would release weapons and military supplies purchased by Iran--but never received--before the 1979 Islamic revolution.
His statements also flew in the face of reports from intelligence sources in Washington on Wednesday that White House envoys have conducted secret discussions with Iran for the last 14 months, leading to the release of three U.S. hostages in Lebanon and several shipments of American-made arms to Iran. Former national security adviser Rob1701999648the National Security Council staff were said to have conducted the talks.
Diplomats and other analysts in Nicosia linked the conflicting signals coming out of Iran to an intense power struggle said to be taking place in Tehran that has made it unclear who speaks for that country.
The unwillingness to admit that the government has dealt regularly with the United States, the nation once depicted by Iranian revolutionaries as "the Great Satan," also demonstrates just how domestically unpopular such a policy would be.
Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, who heads one of the factions involved, told a Tehran rally on Tuesday that Iran would work for the release of the American and French hostages being held by pro-Iranian groups in Lebanon if the United States and France agreed to end their "hostile acts" against Iran.
Rafsanjani's public stance was that the United States would have to lift its arms embargoagainst Iran, which is involved in a lengthy war with Iraq, and France would have to settle its dispute over the repayment of a $1-billion loan extended by the government of the late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
Iran's desire for the United States to completely lift its arms embargo, mainly to free the flow of vital spare parts, is viewed by some analysts as especially urgent in light of its plans to undertake a long-expected, but much-delayed, offensive against Iraq.
But Moussavi, according to Tehran radio, said that any lasting deal with the United States is now out of the question. Likening relations between Washington and Tehran to "those of a wolf with a lamb," Moussavi said "there can be no possibility whatsoever of negotiations between us and the United States."
Moussavi's remarks coincided with an announcement by Anglican hostage negotiator Terry Waite that he will not return to Beirut this week as expected but will await further developments.
Waite, the Church of England envoy who has been acting as a go-between in the hostage negotiations for more than a year, hinted at a news conference in Wiesbaden, West Germany, that his efforts to bring about the release of more American hostages had run into difficulties.
Waite accompanied David P. Jacobsen, the American hostage who was freed Sunday, to Wiesbaden from Beirut on Monday and had hoped to return to the Lebanese capital before the end of the week to bring out two more American hostages, journalist Terry A. Anderson, the Beirut bureau chief of the Associated Press, and Thomas Sutherland, dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut. Both men, kidnaped more than 18 months ago, are being held by Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War), the pro-Iranian group that released Jacobsen.
Waite told reporters in Wiesbaden that he will not be returning immediately to Lebanon but will be "dropping out of public view" for the next few days in the hopes of "resuming contacts with a number of people."
He refused to characterize his change of plans as a setback but conceded that he wishes the outcome "had been different."
In Personal Jeopardy
Later in the day, in London, he angrily complained that "rumors and information spread over the past day have not helped" his effort to bring about the release of the hostages and have put him in personal jeopardy.
Referring to a story in the Times of London suggesting that the United States may have used him as a decoy while separately undertaking its own negotiations with Iran, Waite said "people who write such speculative comments" should "realize that that sort of comment will cost me my life."
On an earlier trip to Beirut, he said the kidnapers considered taking him hostage and once threatened to kill him because they were not certain he was an apolitical church envoy without government contacts.
On Wednesday, he said the press speculation touched off by Jacobsen's release has caused nervousness among his contacts in Lebanon and that it might be "quite some time" before he could get on with his effort on behalf of the other hostages.