The Iranian diplomat who negotiated the release of American hostages in Tehran denies that Iran delayed the release to help the candidacy of Ronald Reagan in 1980, Iran's official news agency reported Saturday.

Behzad Nabavi was quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency as saying that Iran had tried but failed to resolve the matter before the presidential election in which Reagan defeated the incumbent, Jimmy Carter.Nabavi said that negotiations bogged down a month before the election, because of fears on the U.S. side that Iran's conditions for the release would become a campaign issue.

Gary Sick, who was on the staff of Carter's National Security Council, charged in an April 15 column in the New York Times that Reagan campaign staffers made a deal with the Iranians to hold up the hostages' release until after the election.

Sick said the Reagan people agreed to arrange arms shipments from Israel to Iran in return for the delay. Arms supplies were critical to Iran during its 1980-88 war with Iraq.

All those involved in the Reagan campaign, including President Bush, have denied any effort was made to delay the hostages' release.

The hostages were taken in November 1979 after followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Concern over their plight dominated the rest of Carter's presidency. Some were released in the early days of the crisis, but most were not released until the day Reagan took office on Jan. 20, 1981.

The United States released some Iranian assets in return.

Nabavi, who headed the Iranian negotiating commission, was quoted as saying that Iran had made no attempt to help either Carter or Reagan.

He said Iran wanted to free the hostages in October after the Majlis, Iran's parliament, set a series of conditions. He said the U.S. election delayed the release because Iran's proposals were "not dealt with effectively" by the American side out of fear they would become an election issue.

"We were after mechanisms so that we would be able to get financial guarantees from the United States before the release of the spies (the hostages) and our proposal led to a monthlong halt in negotiations," Nabavi was quoted as saying.

Sick said the deal to delay the release was arranged in meetings between William Casey, then Reagan's campaign manager and later director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and leading Iranian clerics, including Mehdi Karrubi, now speaker of the Majlis.

Nabavi told IRNA that "Mr. Karrubi played no role in the negotiations."