It was a rare week of good news in the Middle East. Iran met its obligations to formally launch all the provisions of the nuclear agreement agreed to with world powers last July, an early demonstration of its commitment to radically restructure its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief. Tehran also surprised many observers with the quick release of 10 U.S. sailors detained last week after they inadvertently navigated into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf. Finally, in the latest step forward in building a more functional relationship between Washington and Tehran, the two sides completed secret negotiations over a prisoner swap that saw five Americans, four of whom are dual nationals, released by Iran, in exchange for the U.S. releasing seven Iranians—six of them dual nationals, all charged or convicted of sanctions-related violations—and dropping international arrest warrants for 14 others. There will be steps backward in the future, to be sure, but now is a moment to enjoy the fruits of smart diplomacy.
Iran demonstrated its commitment to the nuclear deal signed last July with the P5+1—Britain, France, China, Russia, the U.S. and Germany—by completing its obligations for implementation this past week. The agreement front-loaded nearly all of the requirements for Tehran to disable and dismantle key nuclear activities that had put Iran in noncompliance with its Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations. U.S. experts had estimated that Iran would need until March to complete all the work involved in idling two-thirds of centrifuges, exporting nearly all of its spent fuel, removing a reactor core and pouring concrete in it.
But Iran insisted that it could work more quickly than that, and on Jan. 16, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified that all the work was done. Within minutes, announcements went out from world capitals that nuclear-related sanctions against Iran had been lifted. While press reporting in Iran was subdued, Iranian officials were happily talking about replacing their aging civilian aircraft and other anticipated benefits of the lifting of sanctions.