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US sanctions against Iranian foreign minister amid growing tensions

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: August 1, 2019  | 13:02 IST

By Lalit K Jha (Eds: Adding more details, changing slug) Washington, Aug 1 (PTI) 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. 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. The Iranian regime facilitates and supports terrorism, jails and tortures innocent Iranians, fuels foreign conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and, in recent weeks has expanded its nuclear programme, he said. 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. Under the sanctions, all properties of Zarif that are in the US or in the possession or control of US entities will be blocked. A senior administration official, however, did not respond to questions on the properties of Zarif, if any, in the US. 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. Supporting the decision to impose sanctions to block any US-based assets of Zarif, Senator Marco Rubio said, "The Iranian regime blatantly violated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action by concealing from international inspectors its dangerous atomic archive for rapid nuclear weaponisation, and it continues to violate the deal by escalating its uranium enrichment activities. The right response here is to continue maximizing international pressure against the Iranian regime-not to ease it." 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. 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 Putinís Russian regime and other foreign countries not only to continue assisting the Iranian regimeís expansion of nuclear infrastructure, but also to keep the flawed Iran nuclear deal on life support," Senator Rubio said. Senator Ted Cruz said he will continue to work towards permanently ending the nuclear deal, including by exercising Congress' important oversight responsibility to ensure the implementation of the US policy. PTI LKJ RDK SCY AKJ SCY

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