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Secretary Kerry Highlights Diplomacy In Freeing U.S. Sailors Held By Iran


The U.S. and Iran have avoided what could have been a major international incident. Today, Iran released 10 U.S. sailors along with a video appearing to show one of them apologizing for straying into Iranian waters. The State Department says it's unclear if that statement was coerced and that it doesn't count as a U.S. apology. But Secretary of State John Kerry says the fact that this was all resolved so quickly shows that diplomacy works. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When he was negotiating the nuclear deal with Iran, Secretary Kerry spent many hours with his Iranian counterpart, and Kerry is now suggesting that relationship with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was key in getting the U.S. sailors back.


JOHN KERRY: These are always situations, which as everybody here knows, have an ability, if not properly guided, to get out of control.

KELEMEN: An official close to him says Kerry spoke at least five times with Zarif, telling him at one point that this could be a good news story for both. Despite pictures that show the sailors kneeling with their hands over their heads, Kerry told the National Defense University that they were well treated, given blankets and food. And he thanked Iran for returning them quickly.

KERRY: And that is a testament to the critical role that diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong.

KELEMEN: Foreign Minister Zarif seems to agree writing in a tweet that he's happy to see this resolved through dialogue and respect, not threats and impetuousness. Let's learn from this example, Zarif added. Iran clearly had reason to resolve this quickly. It's about to get out from under crippling international sanctions. Secretary Kerry says Iran is, quote, "well on its way."

KERRY: Implementation day, which is the day on which Iran proves that it has sufficiently downsized its nuclear program and can begin to receive sanctions relief, is going to take place very soon, likely within the next coming days somewhere.

KELEMEN: Critics of the Iran deal fear that Iranian hardliners are likely to benefit most from that sanctions relief. On the House floor today, California Republican Ed Royce described a possible windfall for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.


ED ROYCE: That force and their proxies control many of the industries that will benefit from the influx of hard currency and new investment. Whether it's energy or construction, they control it.

KELEMEN: Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says Iranian hardliners have been, in his words, on a bit of a tear since the nuclear deal was signed, testing ballistic missiles and arresting an Iranian-American businessman. Iran also continues to hold the Washington Post journalist, a Christian pastor and a former U.S. Marine.

ROYCE: When it comes to Iran, we need a policy of more backbone, not more backing down.

KELEMEN: And Royce says the Obama administration isn't pushing back. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.