In a marked sign of a potential change in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s policy Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says the country’s missile program could be a topic for negotiations with the United States.
The unprecedented remarks contradict previous statements by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who in various occasions has ruled out any discussion with foreigners about Iran’s ballistic missile program.
In an interview with NBC, Zarif has however conditioned negotiations about Tehran’s missile program on the halt of U.S. arms sales to U.S. allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Zarif highlighted in the Monday night interview that Saudi Arabi’s military spending is more than four times higher than Iran’s. He said Iran has spent only $16 billion on its military last year while Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have spent $67 billion and $22 billion on weapons respectively.
Iran’s representation office at the UN said later on Tuesday that “Iran will not negotiate about its missile program with anyone at any time,” adding that the media got the Zarif’s remark’s wrong.
He said, "These are American weaponry that is going into our region, making our region ready to explode, so if they want to talk about our missiles, they need first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region."
Iran says it has restricted its missiles’ range to 2000 kilometers. “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,” wrote the New York Times on Tuesday.
One of the reasons why the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 was that it solely covered Tehran’s nuclear activity and ignored its missile program and regional military ambitions.
Iran’s ballistic missile program is developed and controlled by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
In his interview with NBC, Zarif also reiterated that Iran does not want a war with the United States, but in order to pave the way for negotiations Washington should first lift the sanctions it has imposed on Tehran. This has also been said previously by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Khamenei.
Zarif said that “the door is wide open to diplomacy” if sanctions are lifted. After leaving the 2015 nuclear deal, the United States reimposed on Iran the sanctions that were lifted after the nuclear deal with Tehran. The sanctions have dramatically affected Iran’s economy.
"It is the United States that left the bargaining table. And they're always welcome to return,” Zarif said.