In separate statements on Wednesday, the US departments of State and Treasury announced the imposition of sanctions against Zarif because he “acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran”.
Back on June 24, US President Donald Trump announced new sanctions against Iran targeting Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei and top commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
In his statement on blacklisting Zarif, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that the top Iranian diplomat is a “key enabler” of Iran’s policies throughout the region and the world.
The US Treasury Department also said in its statement that Zarif is Iran's "primary spokesperson around the world," and that the ban "is sending a clear message that Iran's "recent behavior is completely unacceptable.”
“The US' reason for designating me is that I am Iran's ‘primary spokesperson around the world’. Is the truth really that painful?” Zarif said in a tweet shortly after the designation, mocking the terms used by the US administration to describe his activities.
He also reiterated that the move by the US administration “has no effect” on him or his family, as they “have no property or interests outside of Iran.”
“Thank you for considering me such a huge threat to your agenda.”
In another tweet, Zarif further mocked the reason for the sanctions.
"Since reason for designating me is my words, would "US persons" need OFAC license to "engage" with me by reading my writings or listening to interviews?" he asked the US secretaries of state and treasury as well as the CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey.
In a contradictory stance, a US official later claimed “the Trump administration is not closing the door to potential nuclear talks with Iran by sanctioning Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who it does not consider a significant decision maker.”
“If we do have an official contact with Iran, we would want to have contact with someone who is a significant decision-maker,” the senior administration official said.
In reaction to these remarks, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi said, “The pinnacle of contradiction and stupidity of US leaders is where they repeatedly call Foreign Minister Zarif an insignificant actor in the Iranian politics but at the same time put him on the sanctions list in a totally unwise move.”
“Americans are extremely terrified of Dr. Zarif’s logic and his art of negotiation,” he added.
The new ban comes as when the US was announcing its June sanctions against Iranian officials, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had said that Zarif would be blacklisted as well.
However, it was later reported the US had reversed that decision without giving specific reasons for it.
"Cooler heads prevailed. We ... saw it as not necessarily helpful," said one source familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that Pompeo had opposed designating Zarif "for the time being."
Zarif is seen as the architect of a 2015 multilateral nuclear deal, which the Trump administration abruptly abandoned last year. The US reinstated its unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic following its exit from the landmark deal.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran escalated after Trump pulled his country out of the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and re-imposed harsh sanctions against the Islamic Republic in defiance of global criticisms.