The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, targeting the country’s top spokesman and potentially hurting chances of diplomatic talks amid rising tensions between the two countries.
US President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal last year and ramped up sanctions to put pressure on Iran’s economy. The move dismantled part of President Barack Obama’s legacy and upset US allies who were party to the agreement, which was designed to restrict Tehran’s pathway to a nuclear bomb in exchange for sanctions relief.
Strains between Washington and Tehran have risen more in recent months after attacks on tankers in the Gulf that the United States blames on Iran and Iran’s downing of a US drone that prompted preparations for a US retaliatory air strike that Trump called off at the last minute.
“Javad Zarif implements the reckless agenda of 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 behavior is completely unacceptable,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
The sanctions against Zarif would block any property or interests he has in the United States, but the Iranian foreign minister said he had none.
“The US’ reason for designating me is that I am Iran’s ‘primary spokesperson around the world’,” Zarif said on Twitter. “Is the truth really that painful? It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran. Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda.”
Zarif lived in the United States, from the age of 17 as a student of international relations in San Francisco and Denver, and subsequently as a diplomat at the United Nations in New York, where he was Iranian ambassador from 2002 to 2007.
The Trump administration said it would make decisions on whether to grant Zarif travel visas, including for trips to the United Nations, on a case by case basis, holding open the possibility that he might attend the annual UN General Assembly in September.
If Zarif received such a visa, that would allow direct or indirect US contacts with him during that gathering, which brings most of the world’s leaders to New York and has been the venue for previous US-Iranian contacts.