Josh Fattal, who along with his friends Shane Bauer and Sarah Shourd, was imprisoned in Evin Prison alongside Iranian political prisoners, writes: Nine months into my detention, my interrogators led me blindfolded out of my cell to meet a man they described mysteriously as a “foreign diplomat from this region.” Awaiting Shane, Sarah and me in a prison office was Salem Ismaeli, an Omani businessman and envoy of Sultan Qaboos bin Said. He enveloped us in his flowing robes as he introduced himself, and I still remember how sweetly he smelled of sandalwood. He gave us expensive watches and told us his mission was to get the United States and Iran to talk to each other about our release.
It took more than a year for Salem to deliver us to freedom and the waiting arms of our families on the tarmac in Muscat. The Associated Press has since reported that Oman’s mediation led to direct talks between U.S. and Iranian officials that paved the way for last November’s interim accord to freeze parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from some economic sanctions.
With talks between Iran and six world powers on a permanent accord resuming this week, some voices in Congress and some supporters of Israel continue to warn against engagement with Iran and to press for even tougher sanctions. The Iran that I glimpsed under my blindfold, heard in the supportive whispers on my prison hallway and tasted in the sweet candies provided by my hall mates convinces me this stance is misguided.
It is time to end the mutual hostility for good. A permanent accord that limits Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for a lifting of sanctions would make my relatives in Israel safer. It would make my family in the United States safer. And it would strengthen the hand of the brave Iranians I met in the dark corridors of Evin Prison in their continuing struggle for democracy.