VIENNA (AP) — Since the start of talks on Iran's nuclear program, Iran has asserted it has a right to enrich uranium — and the United States has disagreed. Both have refused to budge over nearly a decade of negotiations.
Iran has suddenly gone public with a significant concession just days ahead of a new round of talks with six world powers later this week in Geneva. It still insists that it has a right to the program, but it now says that the six no longer need to publicly acknowledge its claim, opening a way to sidestep the dispute and focus on more practical steps both sides can agree on.
It is the latest sign of Iran's new pragmatic approach to the nuclear issue. Tehran is unlikely to ever completely stop enrichment. But by dropping a demand that makes no practical difference, it can move on to its most pressing concern; an easing of sanctions crippling its economy.
Less than two months ago, President Hassan Rouhani conditioned any agreement on recognition by the United States and its allies of such a right. But with both sides hoping to seal a deal at meetings that start Wednesday, Tehran tweaked its message Sunday.
Tehran's right of enrichment remains "nonnegotiable," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency. "But (we) see no necessity for its recognition as a right."
Despite previous signs that Iran is ready to compromise under the moderate Rouhani, such a major shift is a surprise. Former U.S. State Department official Mark Fitzpatrick calls it a "very significant development, representing a key concession by Iran and a way to overcome a major hurdle to a deal."
It's unlikely that Rouhani acted without seeking approval from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.