While Iran hasn't actually lifted the late Ayatollah Khomeini's religious decree ordering Rushdie's death, it has said that it will not support the $2.5 million reward offered by a private foundation, and that it won't carry out the death sentence. "A fatwa is simply a religious edict, but this one's power came from the fact that it had been endorsed by a government," says TIME Middle East bureau chief Scott MacLeod. "Britain would not have restored diplomatic relations severed over the Rushdie issue unless they were convinced Iran was serious." So, while Rushdie may still be a target for a fringe group or lone gunmen, he no longer faces an official threat.
"This moves signifies Iran's determination to end its pariah status and restore normal relations with the world," says MacLeod. Will the U.S. be impressed? "The most important factor in the British decision was the political will on both sides to find a way to restore relations," says MacLeod. "Right now, that's still lacking in both Washington and Tehran."