Jul 31, 2019

Trump administration sanctions Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

Javad Zarif. Photo: Yuri CO/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, with a senior administration official telling reporters Zarif should not be treated internationally as a "credible" interlocutor.

Why it matters: As a senior administration official noted on a call with reporters announcing the decision, Zarif is "the international face" of Iran's government and played a central role in negotiating the 2015 nuclear deal, which the U.S. withdrew from in May 2018. This seems to be another signal from the Trump administration that punishing Iran is a higher priority than coming to a new deal.

"For far too long he has been indulged as the reasonable and credible face of Iran and today President Trump decided enough is enough."
— Senior U.S. official

An official on the call accused Zarif of "spearheading propaganda and disinformation efforts" and implementing the policies of Iran's supreme leader and Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The other side: When reports first emerged that the U.S. was considering sanctioning Zarif, there was considerable alarm among diplomats and former officials who said the administration, which claims to want a broader deal with Iran, was severing ties with its most likely point of contact for negotiations.

  • A U.S. official denied that the administration considers Zarif "to be our primary point of contact," in part because he's not a "primary decision-maker."
  • The officials on the call were intent on undermining his reputation as moderate figure within the regime, a reputation one official described as a "masquerade."
  • The same official said the delay on designating Zarif, which some had taken as a sign the administration was rethinking the move, was due to the fact that such a "highly unusual action" takes time to finalize.

What they're saying: Zarif offered a sarcastic "thank you" to the administration "for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda," and said the sanctions would have no tangible effect on him or his family because he has no "property or interests outside of Iran."

  • One official on the call declined to comment on whether Zarif had any relevant assets, while another said the State Department would review his ability to travel to the U.S. — for meetings at the UN for example — "on a case-by-case basis."

Go deeper

U.S. sanctions on Iran are becoming an end, not a means

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration's decision to put Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s mellifluous foreign minister, on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list makes clear that the means of pressure and sanctions have increasingly become the end goal of the U.S.' Iran policy.

The big picture: When President Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal last May, he insisted he could negotiate a much better agreement. More than a year later, however, the U.S. is no closer to such talks, dangers across the Middle East have escalated and the man who would have led Iran's negotiations has been sidelined — at least from the Trump administration's point of view.

Go deeperArrowAug 1, 2019

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif makes surprise visit to site of G7

Photo: Stian Lysberg Solum/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived on Sunday at the site of the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, at the invitation of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, officials confirmed.

Why it matters: Zarif is viewed as the "international face" of Iran's government and was sanctioned by the U.S. last month amid a recent escalation of tensions between the 2 countries. Zarif is not expected to meet with President Trump or any U.S. officials, though Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Fox News that the president has previously stated his willingness to sit down for talks with Iranian officials with "no preconditions."

Go deeperArrowAug 25, 2019

France's Macron wants to broker a meeting between the U.S. and Iran

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron revealed Monday that he is attempting to broker a meeting between the U.S. and Iran in the coming weeks during a joint press conference with President Trump to close the G7 summit.

Why it matters: Trump has long said that he is willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but Iranian officials have rejected the idea on grounds that the U.S. is waging "economic warfare" against them. Macron said he told Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who made a surprise visit to the summit over the weekend, that if such a meeting went forward he believes "an agreement could be reached." He pointed to a statement today from Rouhani that he would be willing to meet with "an individual" if it was in Iran’s interest.

Go deeperArrowAug 26, 2019