Iran says the US decision to impose sanctions on its supreme leader and other top officials is “idiotic” and has permanently closed the path to diplomacy between Tehran and Washington.
Donald Trump imposed new sanctions on Monday against the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and top military chiefs, in an unprecedented step designed to increase pressure on Iran after Tehran’s downing of an unmanned American drone. Khamenei is Iran’s utmost authority who has the last say on all state matters.
Washington said it would also impose sanctions this week on Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal with the US and other major powers and has spearheaded Iranian diplomacy since.
Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, described the White House as “afflicted by mental retardation” and said the sanctions against Khamenei were “outrageous and idiotic”, especially as the 80-year-old cleric has no overseas assets and no plans to ever travel to the US.
Tehran said the US had spent weeks demanding that Iran match America’s diplomacy with its own diplomacy, rather than military responses, but was now trying to immobilise its chief diplomat.
“Imposing useless sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy is the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy,” the foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a tweet on Tuesday. “Trump’s desperate administration is destroying the established international mechanisms for maintaining world peace and security.”
Speaking in Israel, Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, insisted the president remained open to real negotiations and “all that Iran needs to do is walk through that open door”.
On Thursday, Iran plans to breach the enriched uranium limits set out in the 2015 nuclear deal in response to US sanctions and the failure of Europe to provide economic protection.
Iran’s decision, due to be followed by further more serious breaches of the deal on 7 July, places the European Union in a political dilemma since France, Germany and the UK are desperate to keep the deal alive, but cannot find a route to de-escalate the crisis between Tehran and Washington.
The three European countries issued a statement on the margins of the UN security council on Monday urging Iran to stay inside the deal, saying: “It is in everyone’s interest to show restraint and avoid any actions that would undermine this vital pillar of the non-proliferation regime and of our collective security.”
They also insisted they were working hard to implement their commitments to Iran – a reference to setting up financial mechanisms to help Tehran trade with Europe without the threat of US sanctions – and condemned recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
Trump is due to raise the issue of tightening maritime security in the Gulf at a G20 summit starting on Friday in Japan. He wants Asian countries including Korea and Japan to contribute more to defence of shipping in the Gulf especially the strait of Hormuz.
Analysts said the impact of the fresh US sanctions on an already heavily sanctioned country would be limited. “The newly announced Iran sanctions are symbolic,” said Jarrett Blanc, a former senior state department official now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Trump said he was willing to pursue dialogue with Tehran without preconditions, but the sanctions appeared to make such talks even less likely.
The Iranian ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, said: “No one in clear mind can have a dialogue with somebody who is threatening you with sanctions; as long as that is still there, there is no way we can have a dialogue.”
The ratcheting up of tensions between the two countries comes in the wake of the Gulf of Oman tanker attacks, when two vessels were damaged by explosions. The Trump administration blamed Iran for the attacks, but Tehran denied responsibility.
Then last week a US drone was shot down by Iran, further escalating the crisis. The US president responded by ordering an attack on Iran, before pulling back and opting for stronger sanctions instead.
Tensions with Iran have been mounting since Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal last year and began applying pressure on Tehran through economic sanctions.