A hitch today apparently delayed the release of the 52 American hostages from Tehran.
Iran had formally agreed to free the Americans on this 443rd day of their captivity in exchange for $9 billion in frozen assets.
President Carter had announced the U.S. agreement at 4:58 this morning and remained in the White House awaiting an end to the 14 1/2-month ordeal. There is an 8 1/2-hour time difference between Washington and Tehran and the president had been expected to fly to West Germany to see the hostages, then return to Washington for Ronald Reagan's inauguration tomorrow.
Officials at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport had said the hostages were being readied for departure aboard two Air Algerie 727 airliners. At Ankara Airport, military officials had said they expected the planes to enter Turkish air space "shortly."
The captives had been examined by a group of Algerian doctors this morning and the doctors said the hostages appeared to be in good health. Iranian television had transmitted to the West a videotape of the tests.
But the departure apparently was held up by a delay in definite news about the transfer of the Iranian assets. Sources said Tehran was awaiting Algeria's confirmation about the funds transfer before putting the Americans aboard the aircraft.
Behzad Nabavi, Iran's chief hostage negotiator, said the Americans would be freed as soon as Algeria "officially informs us that our deposits and gold confiscated by the U.S. government have been deposited in a third country's central bank on the Algerian government's account."
U.S. officials in Washington said the hitch may have developed over Iran's failure to make arrangements with the Bank of England to set up an escrow account for the transferred Iranian assets.
A Tehran airport press conference for foreign journalists was canceled. Iran said no one would be able to cover the hostages' departure.
Former chief of staff Hamilton Jordan and White House counsel Lloyd Cutler were grim-faced when they conferred this morning with press secretary Jody Powell.
Asked whether the hostages would be freed soon, Cutler said, "We don't know. We're still waiting. We'll find out."
Jordan also told reporters: "We don't know anything yet."
Meanwhile, confusion surrounded the whereabouts of the hostages. Some reports said they were at the airport while others said they were not. One report said the hostages might have to spend another night in Tehran because the airport closes after dark.
However, a Tehran airport official confirmed to UPI that the planes could depart despite the darkness. He said Mehrabad remained operation after dark for domestic flights despite Iran's war with Iraq.
Carter announced the agreement in a nationally televised statement shortly after a nearly all-night vigil.
The agreement was signed by Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Algiers at 3:35 a.m.