EghtesadOnline: Senior Iranian and foreign officials have expressed their support for Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who was sanctioned on Wednesday by the US administration, with the European Union saying that it will continue working with the chief diplomat despite the US decision.
In a move that could potentially hurt chances of diplomatic talks amid rising tensions between the two countries, Washington imposed sanctions on Zarif that would block any property or interests he has in the United States.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claimed in a statement that the US-educated diplomat implements the "reckless" agenda of the ruling establishment in Tehran and is its "primary spokesperson around the world", Reuters reported.
Zarif, a critical figure in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, dismissed the action and said it would not affect him, Financial Tribune reported.
"The US' reason for designating me is that I am Iran's 'primary spokesperson around the world'," he said on Twitter. "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."
The administration of US President Donald Trump said it would make decisions on whether to grant him travel visas, including for trips to the United Nations, on a case-by-case basis, holding open the possibility that he might attend the annual UN General Assembly in September.
In a later tweet, Zarif said, "We know that calling for dialog & peace is an existential threat to #B_Team."
He has repeatedly said the B-team, including Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton, an ardent Iran hawk, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, could goad the US president into a conflict with Tehran.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged "maximum restraint at all levels" and said he has delivered that message to leaders publicly and privately, AP reported.
The EU, which has been trying to salvage the Iran nuclear accord abandoned by Trump last year, said it regrets the US decision.
"From our side, we will continue to work with Mr. Zarif as Iran's most senior diplomat and in view of the importance of maintaining diplomatic channels," Carlos Martin Ruiz De Gordejuela, a spokesman for EU diplomatic chief, Federica Mogherini, said, AFP reported.
During a visit to East Azarbaijan Province, President Hassan Rouhani accused the United States of "childish behavior" and acting out of fear.
"They [the Americans] claim that they are ready for dialogue on the one hand, but on the other hand they sanction our country's foreign minister. Such actions show the power of the Iranian nation and government," the president was quoted as saying by his website.
France voiced concern over the US move and said that, along with Britain and Germany, it disagrees with the decision.
"We consider that all diplomatic channels should stay open, particularly in a context of high tensions," the French Foreign Ministry said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a press briefing that Beijing opposes US unilateral sanctions and "long-arm jurisdictions".
"The US has said on many occasions that it would like to have unconditional dialogue with Iran. We hope the US will honor its words, contribute to regional peace and stability instead of adding fuel to the fire. By doing so, it will truly serve the common interests of the international community," the official said, according to the ministry's website.
The German Foreign Ministry also expressed disapproval of the US move and reiterated the importance of not closing the door to diplomacy, ISNA reported, citing DW.
‘Price’ for Waivers
Wendy Sherman, who was the lead US negotiator for the Iran nuclear deal under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, said placing sanctions on Zarif "risks dangerous escalation", according to Reuters.
She linked the action to what Bolton said was a US decision to renew sanctions waivers for Iranian nuclear programs that allow Russia, China and European countries to continue their civilian nuclear cooperation with Tehran.
"One assumes sanctioning Zarif is the price for those waivers. The internal administration battle of war or diplomacy apparently wages on," Sherman said.
A senior unnamed US official, who was quoted by Reuters, claimed that Trump is open to talks with Iran, but said the administration would want to deal with a key decision maker, which it did not consider Zarif to be.
In a statement, Iran's Foreign Ministry said the imposition of sanctions on Zarif would not stop him from defending the rights of the Iranian people and fighting against US "economic terrorism", ISNA reported.
A number of other Iranian organizations and officials, including the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Leader's foreign affairs advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, and Defense Minister General Amir Hatami also condemned the US move and expressed support for the country's diplomatic apparatus.