The Trump administration on Wednesday issued sanctions against Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, formally labeling him a terrorist enabler and blacklisting all of his property, assets, and investments, according to senior administration officials.
Zarif has emerged as the face of the Islamic Republic's nuclear intransigence and its threats to U.S. assets and allies in the region. He played a key role in negotiating the landmark nuclear deal with the Obama administration and has been a centerpiece in Iran's bombastic anti-American rhetoric.
The designation had been rumored for some time following the Trump administration's decision to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC, as a foreign terrorist entity.
Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin provided a statement on the sanctions.
"Javad Zarif implements the reckless agenda of Iran's Supreme Leader, and is the regime's primary spokesperson around the world. The United States is sending a clear message to the Iranian regime that its recent behavior is completely unacceptable," Mnuchin said. "At the same time the Iranian regime denies Iranian citizens' access to social media, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spreads the regime's propaganda and disinformation around the world through these mediums."
The Treasury Department provided further information.
"While OFAC is taking today's action against Zarif under E.O. 13876, this new authority, additional information indicates that Javad Zarif oversees a foreign ministry that has coordinated with one of the Iranian regime's most nefarious state entities, the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), which is designated pursuant to terrorism and human rights authorities. Zarif's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its high ranking officials have engaged in and funded efforts to influence elections, some of which have involved the IRGC-QF. Additionally, senior officials of Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs sought to facilitate the release of two IRGC-QF operatives from a foreign country by making payments to foreign judiciary officials."
Despite the sanctions, Zarif is still likely be granted immunity from arrest and other measures when he travels to the U.S. for meetings of the United Nations, according to administration officials.
In announcing what senior officials admitted is a "highly unusual action," the Trump administration is subjecting Zarif to all of the international blacklists the U.S. uses to isolate designated individuals.
"Iran's Foreign Ministry is not merely the diplomatic arm of the Islamic Republic but also a means of advancing many of the Supreme Leader’s destabilizing policies," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. "Foreign Minister Zarif and the Foreign Ministry he runs take their direction from the Supreme Leader and his office. Foreign Minister Zarif is a key enabler of Ayatollah Khamenei's policies throughout the region and around the world. The designation of Javad Zarif today reflects this reality."
One senior administration official told reporters on background that Zarif has "been indulged as the reasonable and credible official representative of Iran" for too long, and that "today President Trump decided enough is enough."
"Zarif also defended the Iranian regime's persecution of the Iranian people, having recently endorsed their horrid practice of executing gay people, as well as the regime's suppression of free speech, having acted as the apologist for their cruel and unjust detention of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian," the official said.
"Zarif's office functions as an extension of the Supreme Leader's office and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a designated foreign terrorist organization," the official said. "While the United States has historically placed a high priority on preserving a place for diplomacy, there have been historic [precedent] when a regime routinely flouts these protocols."
"We will continue to build on our maximum pressure campaign until Iran abandons its reckless foreign policy that threatens the United States and our allies," the official said.
The action builds on previous sanctions issued by the Trump administration targeting Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his government allies.
"This executive order was signed by the president in light of the actions of the government of Iran and Iranian-backed proxies, particularly those taking to destabilizing the Middle East, promote international terrorism, and advance Iran's ballistic missile program, and Iran's irresponsible and provocative actions in and over international waters, including the targeting of military assets and civilian vessels," a second senior administration official said.
Rep. Jim Banks (R., In.) tweeted that Zarif "does nothing but disseminate propaganda on twitter."
He added that Zarif "gets paid to do it by a regime that bans its citizens from social media."
— Jim Banks (@RepJimBanks) July 31, 2019