An Israeli newspaper said Friday that the United States and Iran have reached a secret deal to free eight American hostages and British church envoy Terry Waite held by pro-Iranian guerrillas in Lebanon.
The English-language weekly The Nation, in a report from Geneva, said the deal was struck this week in the first direct talks between Washington and Tehran since the 1986 Iran arms affair.That scandal erupted in Washington when it was revealed that President Reagan agreed to ship arms to Iran in exchange for freeing hostages.
The Nation said Lebanese Shiite Moslem militants would release five American hostages on or about Oct. 7 and three more Americans plus Waite a week later.
Citing unidentified sources in Geneva, the paper said Washington agreed to discuss economic aid, including arms sales to Iran, the release of frozen Iranian assets in U.S. banks and a resumption of diplomatic ties once the hostages were freed.
The Nation said the Reagan administration accepted for the moment that Iran did not control the fate of a U.S. Marine Lt. Col. William Higgins, kidnapped in south Lebanon while serving with the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization.
The newspaper did not say where the purported U.S.-Iranian talks took place or who participated.
It said negotiations were precipitated by an alleged assassination attempt on Iranian parliament speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani, regarded as a supporter of improved relations with the West.
Quoting unnamed sources in Iran, the paper said gunmen opened fire on Rafsanjani's motorcade in Tehran last Friday, killing four of his bodyguards.
There has been no report of such an attack from Iran.
In Washington, Roman Popadiuk, White House deputy press secretary, said he hadn't heard anything about the report.
"I don't know of anything that's changed from what we've been saying," he said. He did not elaborate.