The United States imposed sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif. A US administration official said that the office of the Iranian diplomat "acts as an adjunct to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's office as his propaganda apparatus" to defend the regime's persecution of the Iranian people and its suppression of freedom of expression, while Iranian President Hassan Rowhani described the sanctions as "childish."
The United States has decided to impose sanctions on Zarif, further tightening the campaign of "extreme pressure" on the Iranian regime, which it accuses of destabilizing the Middle East.
"Zarif is the face of the regime that is spreading propaganda and disinformation campaigns in support of Iran's nuclear program, ballistic missiles and terrorist networks," said a senior administration official, who declined to be named.
The US Treasury Department said the sanctions included freezing any assets of the United States, or those controlled by US entities, and Washington would also seek to limit international flights to Qatar.
"Zarif is carrying out the reckless agenda of the supreme leader of Iran, the chief spokesman for the (Iranian) regime in the world," US Treasury Secretary Stephen Menuchin said in a statement. "The United States is sending a message to the Iranian regime that its latest behavior is totally unacceptable."
The sanctions were not surprising after the United States announced at the end of June "severe" sanctions against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. US President Donald Trump at the time warned that Iran's foreign minister would soon impose similar sanctions on him.
Zarif immediately replied that Washington was trying to silence Iran's voice on the international scene.
"The reason the United States has offered to punish me is that I am the main spokesman for Iran in the world," he wrote in a tweet. "Is the truth so painful?"
In addition to attempts to freeze Zarif's assets, Washington will seek to limit its ability to act as a diplomat touring the world, but is expected to be able to visit UN headquarters in New York although it is under tight restrictions.
"This decision represents a new attempt to deprive the Iranian regime of resources directed at terrorism and to subdue the Iranian people," said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"Instead of using Iran's precious resources to invest in its proud and courageous people, it facilitates the regime and supports terrorism, imprisoning and torturing innocent Iranians, fueling international conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and in recent weeks expanding its nuclear program," Pompeo added.
"Zarif, a senior official in the regime who praises him, has for years been complicit in these harmful activities," he said.
Voices in the United States rose against the US decision, which seemed to close the door to dialogue with Tehran.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who tried to start mediation with Iran, wrote on Twitter that "sanctions on diplomats weaken diplomacy."
The White House stressed that it was always ready to hold talks, but not with Zarif. "If we have to have contact with the Iranians, we want someone who makes decisions," a US administration official said.
Zarif said sanctions would "have no effect" on him and his family. "I have no assets or assets outside Iran," he wrote on Twitter. Thank you for considering me a threat. "
This comes as White House national security adviser John Bolton said the United States would renew exemptions from sanctions linked to Iran's nuclear programs, which allow Russia, China and European countries to continue civil nuclear cooperation with Tehran.
"I think the idea here is that we are watching these nuclear activities very closely, so this is a 90-day extension," Bolton said in an interview with Fox Business.
On the other hand, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani said yesterday that the financial sanctions imposed by Washington on the country's foreign minister, Mohammed Jawad Zarif, are "childish" and constitute an obstacle to diplomacy.
Rohani added that the United States "has begun to do childish things." He added that US officials "claim that they want to negotiate with Iran without any preconditions, and then imposed sanctions" on Zarif.
For its part, the European Union yesterday expressed regret over Washington's decision to impose sanctions on Zarif and promised to continue working with him.
"We regret this decision," said the spokesman for the EU's foreign minister, Frederica Mugherini, Carlos Martin Ruiz de Gordiola. For our part, we will continue to work with Zarif as the head of Iranian diplomacy, given the importance of maintaining diplomatic channels. "
Washington describes Zarif as the face of the regime that publishes propaganda and disinformation campaigns abroad.
Pompeo considered the decision a new attempt to deprive the Iranian regime of resources directed to terrorism and to entrench the Iranian people.