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Amid the historic first rounds of talks between the Islamic Republic and the United States, there have been a number of small, but significant developments that would not have happened otherwise.
1. Iran frees Maziar Bahari, grants Swiss access to US hikers – Just prior to today’s talks in Vienna, Iran released Iranian-Canadian reporter Maziar Bahari from prison.  The Newsweek reporter had been held since June 21.  Also just prior to the previous round of talks in Geneva, Iran granted access to a Swiss emissary to visit the detained US hikers in Tehran. (We should be cautious, so as not to allow Iran to repeat its history from the 1980’s in Lebanon where it would release a hostage or two, simply to nab a handful more to take their place as a bargaining chip.  Iran also still has a long way to go to make up for its political persecutions in the wake of its election, but these are two small steps forward, and there should be many more.)
2. The US unequivocally condemns terrorism against Iran – This weekend, a suicide bomber killed at least five IRGC commanders.  The news was met immediately with a stern condemnation from the US State Department, as well as an emphatic denial of involvement.  (Many have suspicions that the US has continued its support of the Sunni Baluchi terrorist organization known as Jundallah, even under the Obama administration). But at its core, the Obama administration condemned an act of terrorism.  Of course, there are those who are outraged that Obama would condemn a terrorist act targeted at the Iranian government.  But anyone with any common sense would call those people ridiculous.
3. Talking delays sanctions, which forestalls war – Although it is a gross oversimplification of things, international disputes evolve in stages: first is diplomacy, then sanctions, then war.  So long as two sides continue to talk (absent a total breakdown), there is less need for imposing new sanctions.  Only when the talking stops is there a real danger of bombs falling.
4. Prospects for a nuclear deal – This part remains to be seen, but simply by virtue of these talks, there is a very high likelihood that in the near future, Iran will ship its stockpile of low-enriched uranium out of the country for fabrication into reactor fuel.  That will make an Iranian nuclear weapons breakout scenario much more remote.  And that is a good thing, no matter what.

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