Washington: In an unprecedented action that will further escalate tensions with Tehran, the US slapped sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif which will curtail his international travel and freeze his assets in America.
Under the sanctions, all properties of Zarif that are in the US or in the possession or control of US entities will be blocked.
Meanwhile, Zarif sought to downplay the US sanctions against him.
"The US' reason for designating me is that I am Iran's "primary spokesperson around the world". 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," he tweeted.
Tensions between the two nations have heightened after the US last year withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal that aimed to curb Iranian nuclear activities. Washington has since reimposed tight sanctions affecting the Iranian economy.
There is a growing concern that a number of recent incidents in the Gulf could lead to a military conflict in the vital shipping region.
"Javad Zarif implements the reckless agenda of the 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 behaviour is completely unacceptable," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday.
The US has also imposed similar sanctions against Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in June.
"This action represents another step toward denying the Iranian regime the resources to enable terror and oppress the Iranian people," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is in Thailand, said in a statement soon after the Department of Treasury announced the designation of the Iranian foreign minister.
Pompeo alleged that Zarif is not merely the diplomatic arm of the Islamic Republic but also a means of advancing many of the Supreme Leader's "destabilising" policies.
"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," he said.
The Treasury said any foreign financial institution that knowingly conducts or facilitates a significant transaction for or on behalf of Zarif could be subject to US correspondent account or payable-through sanctions.
"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," Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said.
In a related development, the US State Department announced that it would extend waivers for countries in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to continue their participation in civil nuclear projects with Tehran.
"The action today will help preserve oversight of Iran's civil nuclear programme, reduce proliferation risks, constrain Iran's ability to shorten its 'breakout time' to a nuclear weapon, and prevent the regime from reconstituting sites for proliferation-sensitive purposes," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement on Wednesday.
"As long as the Iranian regime continues to reject diplomacy and expand its nuclear programme, the economic pressure and diplomatic isolation will intensify," she said.
However, several US lawmakers opposed the renewal of the sanctions waiver.
“I am very concerned that the Administration just renewed controversial sanctions waivers that are allowing Vladimir Putin's Russian regime and other foreign countries not only to continue assisting the Iranian regime's expansion of nuclear infrastructure, but also to keep the flawed Iran nuclear deal on life support," Senator Rubio said.
Senator Ted Cruz said he would continue to work towards permanently ending the nuclear deal, including by exercising Congress' important oversight responsibility to ensure the implementation of the US policy.
IRAN HITS BACK
Iran's president lambasted new US sanctions by the Trump administration targeting the country's foreign minister, describing the move on Thursday as "childish" and a barrier to diplomacy, AP reported.
Hassan Rouhani's remarks came after the Trump administration announced Wednesday it had imposed financial sanctions on Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as part of its escalating campaign of pressure against the Islamic Republic.
The highly unusual action of penalising another nation's top diplomat followed President Donald Trump's executive order placing sanctions on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"They have started doing childish things," Rouhani said in a speech in western Azerbaijan province.
"Every day they claim: 'We want to negotiate with Iran, without any pre-conditions'. and then they put sanctions on the country's foreign minister," he said.
These new sanctions come amid a spike in tensions between the US and Iran. The US has boosted its military presence in the Persian Gulf while Iran has begun openly exceeding limits on its nuclear activities set in a 2015 accord with world powers.
Trump withdrew the United States from that pact before imposing crippling sanctions on the country, targeting key industries like Iran's oil exports and sending its economy into free fall.
Zarif, a relative moderate within Iran's clerically overseen political system, was an architect of the nuclear deal, which offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for internationally-monitored limits on its nuclear programme.
US sanctions targeting the foreign minister, however, do not inhibit Zarif's travels to New York for official United Nations business, in accordance with America's international obligations. They also have little impact on Zarif financially.