US backs off from blacklisting Iran’s foreign minister ‘for now’

Backing away from a previous public statement, US officials said the US will not add Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif to its sanctions list – at least for now.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Two sources told Reuters that “cooler heads prevailed,” after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced on June 24 that sanctions would be imposed on Zarif the next week.

This could have been seen as another direct challenge to the Iranian regime at a time of rising tensions between the two countries and, one of the sources commented, “We…saw it as not necessarily helpful.”

The option is not completely off the table, however, as the source noted that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had opposed designating Zarif “for the time being.”

It is a move that could be seen to be conciliatory, considering that the foreign minister would probably be in charge of negotiations with the United States if Iran decided to come back to the table.

It is also in line with recent statements by President Trump that he would like to sit down with the Iranians “with no preconditions,” to discuss its nuclear program, ballistic missile development and backing of terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East.

The US would officially like to reduce the friction of recent weeks after Iran sabotaged oil tankers belonging to US allies in the Gulf, and shot down an American drone.

“We seek a diplomatic solution,” said State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus to reporters on Thursday. “We have asked our allies to ask Iran to de-escalate the situation, not to harass American allies or interests, not to terrorize the region.”

Despite the mollifying words, the American administration has not softened its actions. It is still trying to force its adversary to negotiate, via sanctions that are especially aimed against Iran’s chief export, oil.

The Islamic regime is struggling with high inflation, soaring prices and low employment as a result, but has so far shown no signs of weakening in face of the pressure.

Zarif himself has aggressively defended his country’s actions, including against presidential threats.

When Trump tweeted in May that “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Zarif responded, “Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone. Never threaten an Iranian. Try respect — it works!”

The foreign minister shrugged off the threat of being personally sanctioned, telling The New York Times on July 4 that he didn’t have any assets abroad, “So I have no personal problem with possible sanctions.”