Trump administration announces sanctions on Iran's foreign minister

Trump administration announces sanctions on Iran's foreign minister
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The Trump administration on Wednesday announced additional U.S. sanctions against Iran, this time targeting Tehran’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that it imposed sanctions on Zarif because he "acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

A senior administration official added on a call with reporters that Zarif "defends the regime’s persecution of the Iranian people, and he recently endorsed the practice of executing gay people, as well as the regime’s oppression of free speech.”

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The official maintained that the Iranian diplomat's office “functions as an extension” of the office of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, as well as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the U.S. has designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

“While the United States has historically placed a high priority on preserving faith for diplomacy, there are limits to our patience when a regime so routinely floats these protocols,” the official said.

Zarif quickly responded to the sanctions on Twitter, saying the move would have “no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran.”

“The US' reason for designating me is that I am Iran's 'primary spokesperson around the world' Is the truth really that painful?” Zarif tweeted. “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."

The move announced Wednesday was expected since last month, when Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinWhite House, Democrats edge closer to deal on trade Pelosi gets standing ovation at Kennedy Center Honors World Bank approves billion-plus annual China lending plan despite US objections MORE said that President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers release defense bill with parental leave-for-Space-Force deal House Democrats expected to unveil articles of impeachment Tuesday Houston police chief excoriates McConnell, Cornyn and Cruz on gun violence MORE had directed him to sanction Zarif.

The sanctions were delayed, however, over fears that the penalty would further erode diplomatic efforts between the U.S. and Iran.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have nearly boiled over in recent months as Iran has pushed back on the administration’s maximum pressure campaign, a major blow to the Iranian economy.

The pressure has been increasing since last year, when Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Obama-era deal that was aimed at reining in Iran's nuclear capabilities.

Since then, Trump – who frequently insists the administration remains open to negotiating with Iranian leaders – has engaged in a fiery rhetoric with Tehran and imposed sanctions on Iran's oil industry, metals sector, IRGC and supreme leader.

“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,” Mnuchin said in the statement Wednesday. “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.”

The sanctions will freeze all of Zarif’s U.S. assets and prohibit any U.S. person or entity from dealings with him.

In addition, the order threatens sanctions against those outside the United States that deal with him, and prohibits Zarif from traveling to America, though Iranian officials are already banned from U.S. travel.

Asked whether the new sanctions against Iran’s top diplomat would hinder the administration’s ability to negotiate with Tehran, a senior administration official indicated that Zarif was not a top choice for discussions.

“If we do have an official contact with Iran, we would want to have contact with someone who is a significant decision-maker,” they said. “[Zarif] would not be the president’s selected point of contact.”

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: Amazon alleges Trump interfered in Pentagon contract to hurt Bezos | Federal council warns Trump of cyber threats to infrastructure | China to remove foreign technology from government offices Trump, Russian foreign minister to meet Tuesday Impeachment, Ukraine, Syria and warheads color Washington visit by top Russian diplomat MORE said in a statement that Zarif “has for years now been complicit” in the support of terrorism, jailing and torturing innocent Iranians, fueling foreign conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and, in recent weeks, has expanding its nuclear program.

“Iran’s Foreign Ministry is not merely the diplomatic arm of the Islamic Republic but also a means of advancing many of the Supreme Leader’s destabilizing policies,” Pompeo said.

“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.”

Updated: 5:30 p.m.