Punishing Iran’s top diplomat, Trump muddies a path to talks

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration took the unusual step on Wednesday of placing sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister, essentially cutting off the clearest avenue for talks with Iran by punishing the man who negotiated the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Senior administration officials described the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif — an American-educated diplomat who is well connected throughout the United States — as the “propaganda arm” of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In withdrawing last year from the nuclear accord, the administration argued that the move was intended to open negotiations. But with Zarif sidelined, it was unclear who else might serve as an experienced intermediary for Tehran in any potential talks. The administration has already imposed sanctions on the country’s remaining power centers, Khamenei and the elite military organization, the Revolutionary Guard.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who had hinted at the move weeks ago, said it was intended to send a message to Iran: “Javad Zarif implements the reckless agenda of Iran’s supreme leader and is the regime’s primary spokesperson around the world.”

Zarif responded quickly on Twitter, welcoming the news in his signature combative form.