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'79 hostages say captors included Iran's leader-elect

Bush says charges 'raise questions'

WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that ''many questions" have been raised by the allegations of some former American hostages that Iran's president-elect was one of their captors a quarter-century ago.

''I have no information," Bush said in an interview with foreign reporters ahead of a trip to Scotland next week, ''but obviously his involvement raises many questions."

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a member of the Office of Strengthening Unity, the student organization that planned the embassy takeover, but he was opposed to taking the US Embassy, several of his associates said.

Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said the administration has followed the career of Iran's president-elect, Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner who has been serving as mayor of Tehran.

He said they are ''looking to see what's in the files," but he would not disclose what the US government may know about any role Ahmadinejad had in the 1979 hostage crisis at the US Embassy in Tehran and whether he is one of the captors pictured in photos.

''At this point no determination has been made. We need to get the facts," Hadley said. ''These are allegations that have come forward; they are allegations at the present time."

Former hostages Chuck Scott, David Roeder, William J. Daugherty, and Don A. Sharer told reporters that after seeing Ahmadinejad on television, they have no doubt he was one of the hostage-takers. Two other former hostages, Kevin Hermening and William A. Gallegos, said they reached the same conclusion after looking at photographs. Associates of Ahmadinejad denied that the president-elect took part in the seizure of the embassy or in holding Americans hostage.

In Maine, former hostage Moorehead Kennedy, who lives near Mount Desert, said yesterday that he never saw Ahmadinejad during his captivity.

''I never saw this guy that I can remember," Moorehead said. ''I saw someone else who was a leader. I think they kind of divided us up." Kennedy said he could not rule out the possibility Ahmadinejad was in charge of another group of captives. He said the captors either concealed their names or just gave their first names.

The hostage-taking, retribution for Washington's refusal to surrender an ousted shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, for trial there, contributed substantially to President Carter's defeat by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election.

Militant students seized the US Embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The shah had fled Iran earlier that year after he was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution.

At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack would not say whether the United States would attempt to discuss the situation directly with Iran. There are no direct US relations with Tehran, but diplomats from the two countries have participated in joint meetings involving other nations.

Some other hostages could not identify Ahmadinejad, and several former students who were among the hostage-takers also said they did not believe that he had taken part in it.

For Bush, however, Tehran's alleged nuclear ambitions are the primary concern. He said he wants to ensure that Britain, France, and Germany, who have been negotiating with Iran, to make absolutely clear to Ahmadinejad that a nuclear-armed Iran will not be tolerated.

''We've got a new man who's assumed power, and he must hear a focused message," Bush said. ''That's where my attention is focused right now."

One of his aides, Meisan Rowhani, said Ahmadinejad was asked during recent private meetings whether he had a role in the hostage-taking. Rowhani said he replied: ''No. I believed that if we do that, the world will swallow us."

Rowhani said Ahmadinejad said during the recent meeting that he stopped opposing the embassy seizure after the revolution's leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, expressed support for it. But the president-elect said he never took part.

Abbas Abdi, the leader of the hostage-takers, said Ahmadinejad definitely did not take part in the seizure.

''He was not part of us," Abdi said.

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