“This is obviously a highly unusual action,” a senior administration official acknowledged when discussing the U.S. move against Iran’s 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.”
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 such a huge threat to your agenda,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
The US’ reason for designating me is that I am Iran’s “primary spokesperson around the world”
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.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) July 31, 2019
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 on 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.