TEHRAN - Iran’s foreign minister said Wednesday that his country has no choice but to manufacture missiles for defence purposes — comments that reflect more backtracking after a remark by the top diplomat suggesting the missiles could be up for negotiations. Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with media that aired earlier this week that if the US wants to talk about Iran’s missiles, it needs “first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region.” Iran has long rejected negotiations over its ballistic missile program, which remains under the control of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard that answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The foreign minister’s remarks suggested a possible opening for talks as tensions remain high between Tehran and Washington. But the Iranian mission to the United Nations promptly called Zarif’s suggestion purely “hypothetical” and said the Iranian missiles were “absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country, period.” In Tehran, the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, tweeted late on Tuesday that Zarif’s comments meant to challenge Washington and “threw the ball into the US court while challenging America’s arm sales” to its Mideast allies.

Zarif himself on Wednesday backpedaled on the missiles issue, saying Iran has no choice but to manufacture the missiles for its own defense.

He cited the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and tweeted that, “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.”

“Instead of skirting the issue, US must end arms sales to Saddam’s reincarnations,” Zarif also said.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have sharply escalated since President Donald Trump unilaterally last year withdrew America from the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and re-imposed sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into freefall.