Trump escalates Iran tensions by sanctioning Foreign Minister Javad Zarif

The Trump administration has just sanctioned Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran.

The move, which goes into effect on Wednesday, is one of the most dramatic by President Donald Trump yet since he withdrew America from the Iran nuclear deal — which Zarif helped negotiate — last year. It was expected, though, as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said last month that Trump ordered him to sanction the Iranian diplomat.

Senior administration officials on a call with reporters Wednesday said the main reasons for the move were because the diplomat represents a government that has jailed Americans, persecuted LGBTQ community members in Iran, and supported terrorism around the world.

What’s more, they say Iran’s “recent behavior is unacceptable,” and that sanctioning Zarif sends a clear message that the US wants Tehran to change its behavior, including ending its missile and nuclear programs. So there’s little question that the real reason the US took this step is to increase the financial pain on the Iranian economy and regime members to compel Iran to do just that.

“Today, President Trump decided enough is enough,” a senior administration official said. Zarif “has the veneer, the masquerade if you will, of being the sincere and reasonable interlocutor for the regime,” the official added. “Our point today is he is no such thing.”

No official would go into how many assets Zarif has in the US financial system, which means that the hardship the foreign minister may feel will be minimal.

Zarif defiantly responded to the news in a Wednesday afternoon tweet, saying, “It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran.”

This may not be the end of Trump’s barrage against Zarif. A State Department official told me that the administration, on orders from the White House, is looking to block the foreign minister from obtaining the requisite visa to attend the United Nations General Assembly in September.

A spokesperson for the department denied it: “The United States takes its obligations as the host of the United Nations seriously and intends to stick to its obligations,” the spokesperson told me.

And the sanctions on Zarif come just one month after Trump placed financial penalties on Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But there, too, it wasn’t readily apparent just how much money he has connected to the US financial system.

Taken together, these moves undercut the argument that the US is looking to strike a new nuclear deal with Iran over the next year.