Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed that President Donald Trump took the unusual step of sanctioning him because he refused to meet the president at the White House.
During an Aug. 5 press conference, Zarif was asked by reporters about his meeting with Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) while he was in New York. “I was told that in two weeks I would be sanctioned unless I agreed” to meet at the White House, Zarif said. He did not tell reporters why he refused the meeting but said, “From the beginning, when I am in New York I am engaged in meetings and speeches.” Zarif said that he often meets with reporters, intellectuals and members of congress but made clear he does not meet with officials from the “American executive branch.”
The US Treasury sanctioned Zarif on July 31. Zarif shrugged off the move, saying that he does not own property or have interests outside of Iran anyway. Trump exited the Iranian nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, in May 2018 and began reapplying sanctions. Iran has so far remained in the JCPOA but has taken steps to reduce its commitments. Iran claims the steps are easily reversible once Europe is able to secure the sale of its oil.
During the press conference Zarif also addressed the US pressure. “Economic terrorism is today a reality,” he said. “Economic terrorism means targeting regular people in the hopes of changing [Iran's] policies.”
The United States hopes to isolate Iran and force it into another, far more restrictive deal. However, Iran believes that it is the United States that has become isolated. “Today, America is alone in the world,” Zarif said. “America, which is a military superpower, cannot create a coalition. Other countries are embarrassed to put their names on a list.” Zarif was likely referring to the US call for a maritime coalition in the Persian Gulf that Germany has outright rejected and other European nations have refused to support.
As the US-Iran conflict has intensified, so have tensions in the Persian Gulf. On Aug. 4, Iran seized a third ship in the Gulf it claimed was smuggling oil. Iran previously seized another ship for allegedly doing the same and a British tanker Tehran says committed violations while traveling through the Strait of Hormuz. It is more likely that Iran seized the British tanker in retaliation for the UK seizing an Iranian tanker en route to Syria.
One of the stated goals of the United States is to drop Iran’s oil experts to zero. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has been behind the ship seizures, is intent on establishing and maintaining a strong presence in the Persian Gulf, thus preventing a blockade. After the Aug. 4 seizure, Deputy Commander of the IRGC Ali Fadavi said that the United States has “completely failed” in confronting the IRGC’s naval forces.
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