WASHINGTON — In an unprecedented move, the United States on Wednesday slapped sanctions against Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the ground that he acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Iranian Supreme Leader.
“This action represents another step toward denying the Iranian regime the resources to enable terror and oppress the Iranian people,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is in Thailand, said in a statement soon after the Department of Treasury announced the designation of the Iranian foreign minister.
Instead of using Iran’s precious resources to invest in the brave and rightfully proud people of Iran, the Iranian regime facilitates and supports terrorism, jails and tortures innocent Iranians, fuels foreign conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and, in recent weeks has expanded its nuclear programme, he said.
“Foreign Minister Zarif, a senior regime official and apologist, has for years now been complicit in these malign activities, Pompeo said alleging that the Iranian Foreign Ministry is not merely the diplomatic arm of the Islamic Republic but also a means of advancing many of the Supreme Leader’s destabilising policies.
“Foreign Minister Zarif and the Foreign Ministry he runs take their direction from the Supreme Leader and his office. Foreign Minister Zarif is a key enabler of Ayatollah Khamenei’s policies throughout the region and around the world. The designation of Javad Zarif today reflects this reality,” Pompeo said.
Under the sanctions, all property and interests in property of Zarif that are in the United States or in the possession or control of US persons must be blocked.
It also generally prohibit all dealings by US persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.
A senior administration official, however, did not respond to questions on the properties of Zarif, if any in the US.
The Treasury said any foreign financial institution that knowingly conducts or facilitates a significant transaction for or on behalf of Zarif could be subject to US correspondent account or payable-through sanctions.
“Javad Zarif implements the reckless agenda of the Iran’s Supreme Leader and is the regime’s primary spokesperson around the world. The United States is sending a clear message to the Iranian regime that its recent behaviour is completely unacceptable,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
“At the same time, the Iranian regime denies Iranian citizens’ access to social media, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spreads the regime’s propaganda and disinformation around the world through these mediums,” Mnuchin said.
Senator Marco Rubio supported the decision to impose sanctions to block any US-based assets of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
“That said, I’m very concerned that the Administration just renewed controversial sanctions waivers that are allowing Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime and other foreign countries not only to continue assisting the Iranian regime’s expansion of nuclear infrastructure, but also to keep the flawed Iran nuclear deal on life support,” Rubio said.
“The Iranian regime blatantly violated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action by concealing from international inspectors its dangerous atomic archive for rapid nuclear weaponisation, and it continues to violate the deal by escalating its uranium enrichment activities. The right response here is to continue maximizing international pressure against the Iranian regime not to ease it,” he said.
Iran says sanctions show US ‘afraid’ of top diplomat
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday mocked a US decision to impose sanctions on his top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif, saying it showed Washington was “afraid” of him as tensions again flare between the arch-enemies.
The US Treasury said the sanctions would freeze any of Zarif’s assets in the United States or controlled by US entities, as well as squeeze his ability to function as a globe-trotting diplomat.
“They are afraid of our foreign minister’s interviews,” Rouhani said in a televised speech, referring to a recent round of interviews Zarif gave to foreign media in New York.
“It is completely clear that the foundations of the White House have been shaken by the words and logic of an informed, devoted and diplomatic individual.
“They are doing childish things now,” Rouhani said on a visit to the northwestern city of Tabriz.
“Our enemies are so helpless that they have lost the ability to act and think wisely.”
Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards called the designation “absurd” and thanked Zarif for his service.
“Americans have once again shown their anger at the Islamic Revolution’s inspiring… discourse and made evident their enmity towards Iran’s system and proud nation,” said a statement on the Guards’ official website.
The designation of Zarif under the same sanctions already applied to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the latest in a series of US moves against Iran.
Zarif is expected to be able to continue to visit the United Nations in New York, albeit under tight restrictions.
The arch-foes have been locked in a battle of nerves since President Donald Trump withdrew the US from a landmark 2015 deal placing limits on Iran’s nuclear programme and began reimposing sanctions.
The situation has worsened since the Trump administration stepped up its campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran this year, with drones downed and tankers mysteriously attacked in Gulf waters.
But in a mixed message to Tehran, Washington on Wednesday extended waivers for three Iranian civil nuclear projects, to avoid upsetting the other parties to the 2015 agreement — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
“This is a short 90-day extension,” said White House national security adviser John Bolton, a champion of the hawkish policy towards Iran.
“We are watching those nuclear activities very closely, they remain under daily scrutiny,” he told Fox Business.
Zarif has been at the heart of complex talks with foreign capitals over Iran’s nuclear power industry, which Tehran says is peaceful, but Washington and regional allies including Israel insist is cover for a secret weapons programme.
But a senior Trump administration official said Zarif’s diplomatic image — bolstered by his fluent English, self-effacing humour and US academic background — was false.
“The key issue is that he has had this veneer… of being the sincere and reasonable interlocutor for the regime. Our point today is that he is no such thing,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
“Today President Trump decided enough was enough,” the official said, accusing Zarif of functioning as “propaganda minister, not foreign minister”.
Zarif shot back, tweeting that the United States was trying to silence Iran on the international stage.
“The US’ reason for designating me is that I am Iran’s ‘primary spokesperson around the world’ Is the truth really that painful?” he wrote.
“We know that calling for dialog & peace is an existential threat to #B_Team,” he added, referring to Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others pushing a hard line on Iran.
Other Iranian officials echoed Zarif’s comments.
“America is not only afraid of Iran’s missiles but also of Iran talking,” Abbas Ali Kadkhodayi, spokesman for Iran’s law-vetting Guardian Council, said on Twitter.
“Sanctioning @JZarif means America’s claim of freedom of speech is false. Sanctioning Zarif means the fall of the Statue of Liberty.”