Iran has said remarks by the country’s foreign minister about Iran’s missile program possibly being up for negotiations with the US were meant to challenge Washington’s arms sales policy to the region — not to indicate a readiness by Tehran for any such talks.
The Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, tweeted late on Tuesday that Mohammad Javad Zarif’s comments “threw the ball into the US court while challenging America’s arm sales” to its Mideast allies.
Zarif had said in an NBC News interview aired Monday night that if the US wants to talk about Iran’s missiles, “they need first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region.”
“These are American weaponry that is going into our region, making our region ready to explode,” he said.
Zarif appeared to suggest a high price for such negotiations — the halt of American arms sales to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two key US allies in the Persian Gulf. He said the UAE spent $22 billion and Saudi Arabia $67 billion on weapons last year, many of them American-made, while Iran spent only $16 billion in comparison.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations also described Zarif’s comments as purely “hypothetical.”
Zarif on Wednesday also appeared to backtrack on his remarks, saying his country has no choice but to manufacture missiles for defensive purposes.
“For 8 YEARS, Saddam (Hussein) showered our cities with missiles & bombs provided by East & West. Meanwhile, NO ONE sold Iran any means of defense. We had no choice but building our own. Now they complain,” he said, referring to the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.
Zarif also said: “Instead of skirting the issue, US must end arms sales to Saddam’s reincarnations.”
Iran has long rejected negotiations over its missile program.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly raised Zarif’s remarks alongside US President Donald Trump during a cabinet meeting Tuesday, according to a Reuters report.
At the meeting, Trump reportedly told his cabinet that “a lot of progress” has been made toward ending the standoff with the Islamic Republic.
Trump last year pulled the US out of an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions.
In pulling out of the Iran deal, Trump in part blamed the accord for not addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program. The US fears Iran could use its missile technology and space program to build nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles, something Tehran denies it wants to do.
Tensions have soared in the Persian Gulf in recent months, with the US calling off airstrikes against Iran at the last minute after Tehran downed an American drone, and Washington blaming the Islamic Republic for a series of attacks on tanker ships.
Iran, meanwhile, has stepped up the enrichment of its uranium stockpiles beyond the cap set by the nuclear deal. Last week, Iran announced that it enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the 2015 pact, and had also surpassed the 300-kilogram cap on enriched uranium reserves.
Iran has faced a variety of economic sanctions by the West since its 1979 Islamic Revolution and the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran. That has cut into its ability to buy advanced weaponry abroad. While Gulf Arab nations have purchased advanced fighter jets, Iran still relies on pre-1979 US fighter jets, as well as aging Soviet MiGs and other planes.
Facing that shortfall, Iran instead invested heavily in its ballistic missile program, which remains under the control of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei reportedly has restricted the range of ballistic missiles manufactured in Iran to 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles). While that keeps Europe out of range, it means the Iranian missiles can hit much of the Middle East, including Israel and American military bases in the region. The Islamic Republic frequently threatens to annihilate Israel.