At least four and perhaps five American citizens imprisoned in Iran have reportedly been released as part of a U.S.-Iran prisoner exchange. Those released include a Christian pastor, a former Marine and a reporter for The Washington Post.
The releases appear timed to coincide with the lifting of international economic sanctions against Iran. As part of the deal to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, Iran has already shipped most of its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country, dismantled its heavy-water reactor and decommissioned 12,000 nuclear centrifuges, which are now stored under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Each of those steps has now been confirmed by IAEA inspectors.
“I believe it’s not just an important day for economic activities in Iran. It is going to open the possibilities in Iran for economic engagement,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Zarif said today in Vienna. “What is more important is that it’s an extremely important day for diplomacy. Today is the day where we prove to the world that threats, sanctions, intimidation and pressure don’t work. Respect works. Through respect, through dialogue, we can reach mutually accepted agreements.”
“… it’s now time for all — especially Muslim nations — to join hands and rid the world of violent extremism. Iran is ready,” Zarif said earlier in a tweet.
So … we’ll see. The dismantling of Iran’s nuclear-weapons infrastructure represents a concrete accomplishment that many critics of the Obama administration, including the current Israeli government, had dismissed as impossible. It has now occurred. That doesn’t by any means prove that Iran has permanently abandoned its nuclear ambitions, but it does represent undeniable progress.
The quick, peaceful release of 10 U.S. sailors who wandered into Iranian waters earlier this week, together with today’s announcement, represent additional signs of possible change. It is still too early to conclude that Iran is abandoning its outlaw past, but if such a thing were to occur, this is probably what it would look like.