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World Spotlight: Why Iran Backed Down

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The happy ending of the 13-day standoff over British naval personnel held by Iran suggests that pragmatists prevailed over more radical elements in Tehran’s corridors of power. In snatching the Brits, the Iranian regime’s hard-line Revolutionary Guard appeared to be responding to growing international pressure over Iran’s nuclear program and the U.S.’s detention of Iranian officials in Iraq. But more pragmatic voices, like Ali Larijani, above right, head of Iran’s National Security Council, pushed to resolve the crisis before it escalated and further isolated Iran.

The release of the Royal Marines and sailors–which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, above left, called a “gift” to Britain–doesn’t spell the end of the broader disputes between Iran and the West. Some analysts say Iran’s move shows that U.S.-backed sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment are moderating the regime’s behavior. The end of the crisis was a boost to Larijani, who is also the country’s lead nuclear negotiator. But hard-liners like Ahmadinejad have shown little willingness to bargain away the country’s nuclear program. It will be tougher to persuade them to make a deal next time.

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