WASHINGTON — The Trump administration slapped sanctions on Iran’s top diplomat Wednesday, in an aggressive gesture U.S. officials have been threatening for weeks.
Sanctions directly targeting Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, had been flagged by Treasury Department officials back in June. But they were put on hold by State Department officials, who reportedly worried such a hostile diplomatic step would slam the door shut on diplomacy.
“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. “The United States is sending a clear message to the Iranian regime that its recent behavior is completely unacceptable.”
Zarif had been instrumental in negotiating the landmark 2015 deal with former president Barack Obama to limit Iran’s nuclear program in response to sanctions relief. He maintained contacts with Obama’s former Secretary of State John Kerry, and was an outspoken proponent of the deal.
But Zarif has become one of the Trump administration’s loudest critics since Trump abandoned the multilateral deal, against Iran and Europe’s protests, in mid-2018.
The U.S. personally sanctioned Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in late June.
Relations between both countries have only strained as the U.S has ratcheted up sanctions on Iran in an attempt to pressure Iran’s leaders into “a better deal.”
But Iran has maintained no such deal is coming, and has responded by lashing out in the Persian Gulf, shooting down an American unmanned drone and seizing a British oil tanker over the past few months.
Trump said in June that he came within moments of ordering a strike against Iran in response to the downed American drone that would have killed some 150 Iranians, before abruptly changing his mind.
Cover: In this June 10, 2019, file photo, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas after their talks in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)