WASHINGTON -- Six Americans safely fled Iran in recent days after hiding out in the Canadian Embassy there for almost three months, U.S. and Canadian officials confirmed today.
They confirmed a story in a Canadian newspaper saying the Americans, who took refuge in the Canadian Embassy in early November, have now safely fled Iran with Canadian passports.
Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark Monday announced the closure of his country' embassy in Tehran, saying it had become impossible to carry out normal diplomatic functions in strife-torn Iran.
It was not immediately clear if the Americans were all diplomats. But in Brantford, Ontario, today, Clark confirmed that the embassy gave Americans refuge in Tehran and provided them with papers that allowed them to escape the strife-torn nation.
"I don't want to go into any more details in the matter at this stage because of the delicate situation regarding other American hostages still in Iran."
"I regret the matter has become public ... I would have preferred that the matter not become known until after there had been a resolution of the situation regarding the hostages in Iran."
The Americans were apparently safely flown out before the last Canadians left Iran, according to U.S.
In a copyright story by its Washington correspondent, Jean Pelletier, the French-language Lapresse said a group of American diplomats, believed to number between 12 and 25, took refuge in the Canadian Embassy after the Nov. 4 seizure by Moslem militants of the U.S. Embassy.
Administration officials said that the Canadian news reports were "essentially correct" but that the number in the news story 12 to 25 was wrong, the officials said that the number of Americans, who left under the cover of Canadian passports, was six.
That number would explain most of an apparent inconsistency in the number of hostages listed by the United States and the number listed by the Iranian militants and three U.S. clergymen who saw the hostages on Christmas Day. The clergymen said they had a list of 43 hostages, while the State Department insisted as recently as Monday that there were 50 Americans believed to be in the U.S. Embassy.
Officials refused to discuss the possibility that further Americans either diplomats or private visitors to Iran may still be hiding out in other parts of Tehran.
According to Lapresse, the Americans stayed in the Canadian Embassy until they received travel documents obtained by Taylor. They were, then spirited out of Iran over the past few days. The embassy was closed to provide cover for the last of the group, the newspaper said.
Clark confirmed today that Taylor had provided documents for the Americans.
The External Affairs spokesman said Taylor was now vacationing in Europe but he refused to say where.
The United States has never released an official list of the hostages the administration believes to be held because it did not want to tip off the Iranian militants about those Americans who might be hidden in other embassies.
Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Iran's newly elected president, has rejected sharing any power with the militants holding the hostages in the American embassy.
In an interview with Le Monde newspaper published in Paris Monday, the finance minister said the hostage crisis could be resolved if the United States admitted to ''crimes It had committed" during Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi's regime.