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Iran calls US sanctions on its foreign minister 'infantile'

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign secretary in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 20, 2016.

JASON ALDEN/BLOOMBERG

By SALEHA MOHSIN, JUSTIN SINK | Bloomberg | Published: August 1, 2019

Iran dismissed new U.S. sanctions against its foreign minister as "infantile," saying they proved the Trump administration isn't interested in negotiating an end to their standoff.

"A government that is meant to be mighty, a superpower on the world stage, is scared of an interview with our foreign minister," President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday, a day after the U.S. announced it would sanction top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif. "All the pillars of the White House tremble at the words of a person who's an academic, a diplomat who is devoted and is shrewd."

The sanctions, while largely symbolic, are likely to diminish prospects for a diplomatic solution to rising tensions that have brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war. They are the latest in a list of penalties targeting Iran's all-important oil and financial sectors, its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and senior military commanders.

The U.S. said Zarif, one of the architects of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, acts on behalf of Khamenei.

"Javad Zarif implements the reckless agenda of Iran's Supreme Leader and is the regime's primary spokesperson around the world," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement Wednesday. "The United States is sending a clear message to the Iranian regime that its recent behavior is completely unacceptable."

Tensions have been flaring around the Strait of Hormuz in recent weeks as Iran lashes out against U.S. sanctions that are crippling the oil exports so crucial to its economy. Iran is producing oil at the slowest clip since 1986, making U.S. sanctions one of the toughest challenges confronting Iran's economy since the 1979 revolution.

The European Union, a signatory that's been trying to salvage the accord, said it regretted the U.S. move and would continue to work with the Iranian diplomat.

The sanctions won't prevent Zarif from traveling to the United Nations in New York for official business. They'd block his access to any property he owns in the U.S., but he says he has none. The Trump administration said last month that it planned to sanction the U.S.-educated Zarif.

Zarif, who's been foreign minister since 2013, was Iran's lead negotiator in the multipower nuclear accord. It was supposed to yield economic advantages for Iran, but renewed U.S. sanctions have shattered that expectation since President Donald Trump quit the accord last year.

The latest sanction against Zarif may bolster his standing in Iran, where hard-liners have long criticized him for helping to craft the nuclear accord. "Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda," Zarif said in his tweet.

Zarif oversees a Foreign Ministry that has "coordinated with one of the Iranian regime's most nefarious state entities, the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), which is designated pursuant to terrorism and human rights authorities," according to a statement from the Treasury Department.
 

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