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Iran Responds to US Sanctions on Foreign Minister

FILE - Photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, shows President Hassan Rouhani speaking in a meeting during his provincial tour to the North Khorasan, Iran, July 14, 2019.

Updated: Aug. 1, 2019, 5:08 p.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday called the move by the United States to sanction Iran's foreign minister "childish."

In a televised speech, Rouhani said the United States claims to want to negotiate with Iran without any preconditions, "and then they sanction the foreign minister."

"This is obviously a highly unusual action," a senior Trump administration official acknowledged when discussing the U.S. action against Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The executive order accuses Zarif of acting or purporting to act on behalf of his country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who was recently added to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List.

“And today, President [Donald] Trump decided enough is enough,” a senior U.S. official told reporters on a background briefing conference call. “We will continue to build on our maximum pressure campaign until Iran abandons its reckless foreign policy that threatens the United States and our allies.”

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. “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.”

In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the action is “another step toward denying the Iranian regime the resources to enable terror and oppress the Iranian people.”

FILE - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in Tehran, June 10, 2019.
FILE - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in Tehran, June 10, 2019.

Zarif quickly responded, saying the U.S. action will have no effect on him or his family as they have no property or interests outside of Iran.

"Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda," Zarif wrote on Twitter.

The European Union has expressed regret over U.S. sanctions against Zarif and promised to continue collaborating with him on the matter.

Carlos Martin Ruiz De Gordejuela, a spokesman for EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, told reporters Thursday in Brussels, "We regret this decision" and "we will continue to work with Mr. Zarif ... in the view of the importance of maintaining diplomatic channels."

Such sanctions generally prohibit a designated person from visiting or even transiting the United States.

The State Department “will evaluate specific circumstances related to this designation on a case-by-case basis, consistent with existing laws and obligations and this includes the United Nations Headquarters Agreements,” a senior administration official told reporters.

Zarif would be immune from arrest while on official travel to and from the U.N. in New York City, the official added.

U.S. officials made clear Wednesday they no longer consider Zarif of any value for diplomacy. The previous administration of Barack Obama dealt with him to work out a multinational nuclear deal. But the Trump administration a year ago withdrew from the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“We do not consider him to be our primary point of contact,” a U.S. official in the briefing said to reporters. “If we do have an official contact with Iran, we would want to have contact with somebody who’s a significant decision-maker.”

In its announcement, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control accuses Zarif of overseeing a ministry that coordinates with Iran’s “most nefarious state entities,” including the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force and of involvement with efforts to influence elections and facilitating payments to a foreign judiciary official for the release of two IRGC-Quds Force operatives.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration extended by 90 days waivers that allow Chinese, European and Russian companies to conduct civilian-nuclear work at Iranian facilities without U.S. penalties.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the extension of the waivers, which were due to expire Tuesday, "will help preserve oversight of Iran's civil nuclear program, reduce proliferation risks, constrain Iran's ability to shorten its 'breakout time' to a nuclear weapon, and prevent the regime from reconstituting sites."

The waivers are the last elements of the JCPOA that the U.S. still recognizes.