Former President Carter said he is sickened by renewed reports the 1981 release of American hostages in Iran was delayed for political reasons and thinks they should be investigated.

Carter said he had discounted rumors that members of Ronald Reagan's camp negotiated a secret deal during the 1980 presidential campaign to prevent the release of hostages until after the election.The reports were revived earlier this month when The New York Times published an opinion piece by former Carter aide Gary Sick, a Middle East specialist who helped handle the hostage crisis.

Sick also was featured on the hourlong public television program "Frontline," which devoted its show last week to the possibility of a secret deal.

"It's almost nauseating to think that this could be true," Carter said Thursday during a gathering at the Carter Presidential Center. "I have looked upon it in the past as inconceivable.

"My only comment is I think there ought to be a more thorough investigation," he said.