It's somewhat appropriate, I suppose, that Iran's hostage climbdown occurred during Passover. No plagues necessary this time, I guess.
I'm very amused by the Iranian government's massively transparent attempts to save face here. They're sticking to their story (at least publicly), but claiming that they're letting the Britons go out of an act of charity. Then A-Train is decorating the soldiers who made the capture. And in the part of the deal that made me laugh out loud, he's also admonishing the Brits to not punish the soldiers for "confessing," as if anyone outside of Tehran actually believed that the written confessions were honest.
So a surreal ending to one of the more surreal diplomatic moments in recent memory. The Iranians received the right to talk to five Iranian prisoners held by the U.S. in Iraq - but were not able to secure a release. The Brits released an Iranian prisoner they had held, though that probably would have happened anyway sooner or later. Either way, it seems like Iran got the short end of this deal.
Let's not underestimate the importance of the seemingly wacky face-saving maneuvers by Iran either. If Iran hadn't been able to do these things, it's likely that they wouldn't have accepted the deal. It's very important in negotiations to offer your adversary a way to back down with something approaching dignity. Nothing fights harder than a cornered dog.
Anyway, kudos to Tony Blair, who is now officially the first world leader to make A-Train back down from anything.
Here's another angle on this incident - we now know that Ahmadinejad is willing to negotiate. What's more, whatever Blair used as the stick - further sanctions? Military action? We may never know - made A-Train want to cut a deal for a relatively small reward. The fact that A-Train cut this deal so readily means that, in all likelihood, the nuke program and the support for Hamas/Hezbollah are on the table. All we have to do is make Iran look bad (that shouldn't be hard, should it?) and offer the right combination of threats and incentives. Then we have to offer Iran a way to save face by accepting our conditions. Let the games begin.