Rouhani: ‘Childish’ move shows US fears Iran FM
Global condemnations poured in after the United States imposed sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The US said the sanctions would freeze any of Zarif's assets in the United States or controlled by US entities, as well as squeeze his ability to function as a globetrotting diplomat.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement that Zarif implements Iran’s “reckless agenda”, acts as the country’s “primary spokesperson around the world" to spread “propaganda and disinformation.”
The European Union expressed its regret at the US sanctions on Zarif and said it would continue to keep contact with him regardless of Washington's move.
"We will continue to work with Mr. Zarif, as Iran's most senior diplomat, and in view of the importance of maintaining diplomatic channels," European Commission spokesman Carlos Martin Ruiz de Gordejuela told reporters in Brussels on Thursday.
France voiced its concern over the sanctions and said that along with Britain and Germany it disagreed with the decision, the country’s Foreign Ministry said.
"We consider that all diplomatic channels should stay open, particularly in a context of high tensions," the ministry said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying slammed the move at a press briefing in Beijing on Thursday.
“We have taken note of the statement of the US side and the reaction of Mr. Zarif himself. The position of the Chinese side on this issue is very clear. China opposes unilateral US actions ... We think it is not facilitating the solution of the problem,” Hua said.
Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations Dmitry Polyanskiy said the sanctions on Zarif are against diplomacy and will block the way for any dialogue.
He stressed that Moscow is against any type of bans, as they do not help find a solution.
Iran and the US have been locked in a battle of nerves since President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 deal last year in May, placing limits on Iran's nuclear program and began reimposing sanctions as part of his campaign of "maximum pressure" against the Islamic Republic.
But in a mixed message to Tehran, Washington on Wednesday extended waivers for three Iranian nuclear projects, to avoid further clashes with the other parties to the 2015 agreement – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
"This is a short 90-day extension," said White House national security adviser John Bolton, a longtime Iran hawk said.
"We are watching those nuclear activities very closely – they remain under daily scrutiny," he told Fox Business.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Tennessee, who US President Donald Trump has authorized to seek out possible talks with Iran, criticized the sanctions.
"I think if you sanction diplomats you get less diplomacy," he said. "It's a mistake to sanction diplomats, we will get less diplomacy."
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who has spoken to Zarif often over more than a decade, said the designation of the foreign minister would only undermine the possibility for diplomacy.
“President Trump says he pulled out of the Iran nuclear agreement to force Iran back to the negotiating table, but this move limits the opportunity to do exactly that. This doesn’t move us closer to peace, it further escalates an already tense situation.”
Zarif has been at the heart of complex talks with foreign capitals over Iran's nuclear program since he become foreign minister in 2013. He is expected to be able to continue to visit the United Nations in New York, albeit under tight restrictions.
The top diplomat shot back, tweeting that the United States was trying to silence Iran 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 wrote.
"We know that calling for dialog & peace is an existential threat to B Team," he added, referring to Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others pushing a hard line on Iran.
"It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran," Zarif said.
President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday mocked the US decision to impose sanctions on Zarif, saying it showed Washington was "afraid" of his foreign minister.
"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.
"They are doing childish things now," 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."
“Every day they claim 'we want to negotiate with Iran without any preconditions' and then they put sanctions on the country's foreign minister," he said.
Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps called the designation “ridiculous, illegal and unwise” and thanked Zarif for his service.
“By imposing sanctions on the respectable foreign minister [of Iran], Americans once again demonstrated their anger at the spread of the Islamic Revolution’s inspiring and anti-arrogance discourse, and unveiled their mischief and animosity toward the dignified Iranian establishment and nation," said a statement on the IRGC’s official website.
The sanctions imposed on Zarif, the IRGC’s statement added, show how the Americans are “expressing their rage and anger at [Zarif’s] way of expressing the truth [about them] and exposing their sinister nature.”
The measure was also meant to counter “a diplomacy that is based on resistance and aims to give voice to the position of a nation that has chosen to tread down the path of dignity and independence and stand up to bullies while refusing to give in to modern colonialist rule,” it added.
AP, AFP, Reuters, Euronews, and Press TV contributed to this story.