Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday that a US decision to impose sanctions on Mohammad Javad Zarif showed Washington is afraid of the top diplomat.
“They are afraid of our foreign minister’s interviews,” Rouhani said in a televised speech, referring to a recent round of interviews Zarif gave to foreign media in New York.
“It is completely clear that the foundations of the White House have been shaken by the words and logic of an informed, devoted and diplomatic individual,” he said.
“They are doing childish things now. Maybe there’s no better way to describe (the sanctions) but childish,” Rouhani said on a visit to the northwestern city of Tabriz.
“Our enemies are so helpless that they have lost the ability to act and think wisely,” he added.
Rouhani was speaking after Washington announced Wednesday it was placing Zarif under sanctions. The sanctions freeze any of Zarif’s assets that are in the United States or that are controlled by US entities, the government announced, saying it also would curtail his international travel.
While the Trump administration did extend waivers allowing foreign firms to work at Iranian nuclear facilities without fear of US, it said that Zarif “implements the reckless agenda of Iran’s Supreme Leader, and is the regime’s primary spokesperson around the world.”
Zarif has been at the heart of complex talks with foreign capitals over Iran’s nuclear power industry, which Tehran says is peaceful, but Washington and regional allies including Israel insist is cover for a secret weapons program.
But a senior Trump administration official said that Zarif’s diplomatic image — bolstered by his fluent English, self-effacing humor and background as a US-educated academic — was false.
“The key issue is that he has had this veneer… of being the sincere and reasonable interlocutor for the regime. Our point today is that he is no such thing,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
“Today President Trump decided enough was enough,” the official said, accusing Zarif of functioning as “propaganda minister, not foreign minister.”
The highly unusual action of penalizing the top diplomat of another nation comes a month after Trump signed an executive order placing sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In response to that announcement, Zarif claimed Washington was trying to silence the Islamic Republic on the international stage.
“The US’ reason for designating me is that I am Iran’s ‘primary spokesperson around the world’ Is the truth really that painful?” he tweeted.
The sanctions against Zarif are largely symbolic as US officials said his travels to New York for official UN business will not be inhibited, in accordance with America’s international obligations, and the fact that he has little financial interest in American jurisdictions.
“It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran,” Zarif tweeted.
In addition to attempting to freeze his assets, Washington is attempting to limit Zarif’s ability to function as a globe-trotting diplomat.
In mid-July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Zarif would be issued a visa to the US, but would be limited to the area reaching six blocks around the UN headquarters.
Trump last year left the 2015 denuclearization accord negotiated by Zarif with six nations including the United States under former president Barack Obama and imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran’s economy, also vowing to curb Tehran’s regional influence.
With tensions escalating in June, Trump says he issued a last-minute cancellation of military strikes on Iran after it shot down a US drone.
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