Standoff Over, What's Next for Iran and the West? Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announces that the freedom granted to the 15 British sailors and marines held captive in Iran is a 'gift' to the British people. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he is pleased with the news, but what will be the long term consequences of the soldiers capture mean for Iran?
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Standoff Over, What's Next for Iran and the West?

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Standoff Over, What's Next for Iran and the West?

Standoff Over, What's Next for Iran and the West?

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For some perspective on the release of those British captives, we turn to Karim Sadjapour. He is an Iran expert at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace. So good to talk to you again.

Mr. KARIM SADJAPOUR (Carnegie Institute for International Peace): Thank you.

NORRIS: Now, we spoke to you last week when the crisis was still heating up. Your reaction to today's news?

Mr. SADJAPOUR: I think it was to be expected that these British sailors were going to be released in due time. We always pointed out that Iran is not Hezbollah, Iran is not al-Qaida, so it's certainly had no intention of harming these sailors and they certainly had no intention of prolonging this over the long term. But I think Iran was looking for a dignified way out, a way of saving face. And I think in the eyes of Iranian officials they had found that way out.

NORRIS: There is a lot of speculation as to why Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would make this move and announce it in quite this way. Do you have any insight on what happened behind the scenes?

Mr. SADJAPOUR: I think behind the scenes what took place was that the leadership in Tehran, especially Ayatollah Khamenei, they realized how tarnished Iran's international reputation of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. You know, the last two years he's known for his talk about wiping Israel off the map, for questioning the validity of the Holocaust.

And I think this was a gesture to him being able to announce this. And he has an air for flamboyant pageantry and I think this fits very much in line with what he has done in the past couple of years as president.

NORRIS: We saw a little bit about today when he was shaking hands with some of the captives, joking with one of them; so you came on a mandatory vacation. Were you surprised to see that?

Mr. SADJAPOUR: Not necessarily, because again, this is someone who feels like he himself has a common touch. He's a man of the people. And it was interesting, as we heard earlier, he implored Tony Blair to think about the well-being of the British public. And it's interesting that since Ahmadinejad has come to office, he ran on a platform of economic populism, of putting the oil money on people's dinner tables. But he's actually very much neglected economic concerns domestically within Iran. And he's focused much more on foreign policy.

NORRIS: Karim, what does this mean for Iran in the long run in terms of the country's standing and its often-contentious relationship with other countries, including the U.S.?

Mr. SADJAPOUR: Well, that's a great a question, Michele. And I think that my own interpretation is that this is characteristic Iranian behavior in the sense that they put short-term tactics at the expense of long-term vision. So in the short term, they feel like they've done quite well. One of their comrades, an Iranian official, was released yesterday in Iraq. And they feel they were able to - they thought they were able to save face with this latest move. But in terms of long-term vision, I think this is really further undermine the Iran's international credibility, Iran's international reputation. And I think in the eyes of European officials, this has further eroded confidence in their eyes that Iran has a mature political leadership and can be dealt with diplomatically.

NORRIS: In terms of the stalemate, as this played out, Tony Blair seemed to go out of his way to be firm, but as he said, to be non-negotiating but also non-confrontational. Is this a case where Iran has responded positively to quiet negotiations? And is there a framework, I guess, looking towards the future for dealing with this country?

Mr. SADJAPOUR: That's a great question as well. And I think this in some ways can be a lesson to the U.S. government, that despite the fact that this was a crisis situation between the two sides, between the British and the Iranians, the fact that there was an ambassador - an Iranian ambassador in London and a British ambassador in Tehran and the dialogue was retained at the highest levels, they were able to resolve this peacefully. And what we see with the United States and Iran is that there was this crisis which took place in 1979. Relations were broken off and they've never been returned since. So I think that it's a lesson that even when you have an adversarial relationship or a crisis situation with countries, a dialogue is a much better way of solving things.

NORRIS: Just very quickly, President Ahmadinejad did say that it was time to create a relationship with the U.S., very different from what we heard from him in the past.

Mr. SADJAPOUR: Well, I think that this is an edict which we've heard actually somewhat frequently from Iranian officials, that they're ready to have relations with the U.S. if the U.S. approaches them with a different attitude. But again, I don't think that the result of the taking of British sailors is going to change the U.S. attitude.

NORRIS: Karim, thanks so much.

Mr. SADJAPOUR: Thank you. A pleasure.

NORRIS: Karim Sadjapour is an Iraq expert at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace.

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