The United States has decided not to impose sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for now, two sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday, in a sign Washington may be holding a door open for diplomacy.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on June 24 had said Zarif would be blacklisted that week, an unusual public stance because the United States typically does not preview such decisions to keep its targets from moving assets out of US jurisdiction.
Blacklisting Irans chief negotiator would also be unusual because it could impede any US effort to use diplomacy to resolve its disagreements with Tehran over Irans nuclear program, regional activities and missile testing.
The sources did not give specific reasons for the decision, which came after two months in which US-Iranian tensions have soared because of attacks on tankers in the Gulf that the United States blames on Iran, despite its denials, and Irans downing of a US drone that prompted preparations for a US retaliatory air strike that was called off minutes before it was due to hit.
“Cooler heads prevailed. We … saw it as not necessarily helpful,” said one source familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity, saying US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had opposed designating Zarif “for the time being.”
In a sign of how close Washington came to taking action, the US Treasury internally circulated a draft press release announcing sanctions on the Iranian foreign minister.
Zarif is expected to attend a ministerial meeting at the United Nations next week on sustainable development goals, which aim to tackle issues including conflict, hunger, gender equality and climate change by 2030.
To do so, the United States would have to grant him a visa, another sign Washington is holding off on sanctions for now.
Zarif says he has no US assets
Relations have deteriorated since US President Donald Trump last year unilaterally withdrew from Irans 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, and his early May decision to use US sanctions to try to eliminate Irans oil exports entirely.
Trumps move to cut off Irans oil sales led Tehran to start violating parts of the nuclear pact, which was designed to limit its ability to develop weapons in return for relief from economic sanctions that had crippled its economy.
Asked why Zarif had yet to be sanctioned, a Treasury spokesman referred to a comment on Tuesday by a senior Trump administration official who told reporters: “Were obviously exploring our various avenues for additional sanctions against Tehran. Obviously, Foreign Minister Zarif is a figure of key interest and well update you … as we have more information.”
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.
The departments spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Thursday Washington wants a diplomatic resolution and repeated Trumps comment that he is willing to meet Iran “without preconditions.”
“We seek a diplomatic solution,” she told reporters. “We have asked our allies to ask Iran to deescalate the situation, not to harass American allies or interests, not to terrorize the region.”
Mnuchin did not say what sanctions would hit Zarif. On the day he spoke, he was briefing reporters on US sanctions that aimed to block Irans supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, from access to the US financial system or assets under US jurisdiction.
On July 4, the New York Times quoted Zarif as saying in an email that he did not own any property or have any bank accounts outside Iran. “So I have no personal problem with possible sanctions,” he said.
We seek a diplomatic solution
Trump has said he is open to negotiating with Iran. However, former US officials said they see no signs his administration is interested in talks on terms other than Irans capitulation to US demands.
As laid out by Pompeo last year, these include Tehran ending uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fissile material for atomic bombs; giving UN nuclear inspectors total access to sites throughout the country; releasing US cRead More – Source