Beirut Weekly Reports Some American Hostages Taken to Iran
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Some of the eight American hostages in Lebanon have been taken to Iran, where a powerful anti-American faction wants to put them on trial, a Beirut weekly magazine reported Saturday.
Ash-Shiraa, which last year broke the story of secret U.S. arms sales to Iran, added that a more moderate Iranian faction favors freedom for the hostages, but only in return for U.S. weapons bought by Iran and never shipped.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Pete Martinez said, ″if such reports were indeed true, we would consider it a matter of the utmost gravity and would hold the Iranian government directly responsible for the safety and well-being of the hostages.″
″The very notion of a ‘trial’ for the hostages is outrageous,″ he added. He renewed U.S. demands that American hostages be freed, saying they are innocent victims.
Al-Ittihad, a semi-official newspaper in Abu Dhabi, meanwhile said that missing Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite was twice taken to Iran for talks with officials. The paper did not say if Waite was still in Iran.
The Lebanese magazine said Hussein Ali Montazeri, the man chosen by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to succeed him, ″demands that the American hostages ... be brought to trial, especially since some of them have already been taken to Iran.″
Ash-Shiraa, which reportedly has good sources in the Iranian government, attributed its information to unnamed sources ″close to Montazeri’s office″ in the holy city of Qom.
The American hostages in Iran are ″being subjected to thorough interrogations by the Iranian intelligence under the direct supervision of Minister of Security and Intelligence Sheik Mohammad Mohammadi Rey Shahri,″ the magazine said.
Rey Shahri’s official title is minister of information.
The magazine indicated Montazeri and his radical followers have rejected the views of a top-level committee formed by Khomeini to supervise the negotiations for the foreign hostages’ release.
Ash-Shiraa reported earlier this month that the panel included President Ali Khamenei; Parliament Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani; Khomeini’s son, Ahmad; and Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Reda.
It said the commitee, influenced by Rafsanjani, believed ″a settlement to the hostages issue could be achieved ... if the United States delivered to Iran weapons that had been purchased and paid for by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.″
The late, pro-Western shah was toppled by Khomeini’s 1979 Islamic revolution.
Ash-Shiraa also reported earlier that Iran wanted the United States to release Iranian assets frozen in American banks.
The United States has already paid Iran $451 million of an estimated $3.6 billion in frozen assets, as ordered by a special tribunal in The Hague. The transfer of the funds was completed last month.
The Americans have repeatedly said the financial dispute is not linked to the hostage issue.
However, Rafsanjani has declared several times in recent months that Iran would be prepared to help free the hostages if the United States released Iranian assets frozen by Washington after the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized and American diplomats were held as hostages.
Hassan Sabra, Ash-Shiraa’s editor-publisher, said in an interview a week ago that the Iranians ″hold the key to the hostages.″
Sabra said the Iranian government wants ″money and arms. In no case can their Lebanese jailers take the decision to free them. Only Iran can do that.″ Al-Ittihad daily said in Abu Dhabi that Waite was flown to Tehran for talks with Rafsanjani while ″intensive contacts″ were under way between the Church of England and Iran for the release of British hostages kidnapped in Lebanon.
It quoted sources close to Waite’s family as saying Rafsanjani ″made positive steps″ toward freeing Waite, the personal envoy of the archbishop of Canterbury, but Rafsanjani suddenly ended his contacts before a final agreement could be reached.
The Anglican Church said in London that it could not confirm the report.
″This is another example of the many reports which come to us from the Middle East. We do not know if there is any truth in it,″ said a church spokesman, who demanded anonymity.
Waite dropped out of sight Jan. 20 after leaving a hotel in west Beirut. He was reportedly on his way to negotiate with a pro-Iranian group holding two American hostages.
No group has claimed responsibility for Waite’s disappearance.
Apart from the eight Americans and Waite, 16 foreigners are missing and believed kidnapped in Lebanon. They are six Frenchmen, two Britons, two West Germans, an Italian, an Irishman, a South Korean, an Indian and two unidentified foreigners.
The Americans are Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press; Thomas Sutherland, acting dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut; Joseph James Cicippio, acting comptroller at the university; Frank Herbert Reed, the American director of the Lebanese International School; Edward Austin Tracy, a writer; Robert Polhill, a lecturer in accounting at Beirut University College; Alann Steen, a communications instructor at the college; and Jesse Jonathan Turner, a visiting professor of mathematics and computer science at the college.