Iran has sharply criticised new US sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader and other senior officials, saying the measures spell the “permanent closure” of diplomacy between the two nations.
President Hassan Rouhani described the White House as “afflicted by mental retardation”, and called the sanctions against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “outrageous and idiotic”, especially as the 80-year-old Shiite cleric has no plans to ever travel to the US.
From Israel, Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said talks between the nations are still possible and the US is leaving an “open door” for Iran.
But the comments from Iran show its leaders think otherwise at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran over its nuclear programme and the downing of a US military surveillance drone last week.
“The fruitless sanctions on Iran’s leadership and the chief of Iranian diplomacy mean the permanent closure of the road of diplomacy with the frustrated US administration,” said Abbas Mousavi, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
The crisis gripping the Middle East is rooted in Mr Trump’s withdrawal of the US a year ago from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal and imposing crippling new sanctions. Recently, Iran quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium to be on pace to break one of the deal’s terms by Thursday while also threatening to raise enrichment closer to weapons-grade levels on July 7 — if Europe does not offer a new deal.
Citing unspecified Iranian threats, the US has sent an aircraft carrier to the Middle East and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there.
All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the US and Iran into an open conflict, 40 years after the Islamic Revolution.
Mr Trump enacted the new sanctions on Monday against Mr Khamenei and his associates.
The sanctions follow Iran’s downing last week of a US drone, worth more than $100m (€111.7m), over the Strait of Hormuz, an attack that sharply escalated the crisis in the Persian Gulf.
After the downing of the drone, Mr Trump pulled back from the brink of retaliatory military strikes but continued his pressure on Iran.
China gets 91% of its Oil from the Straight, Japan 62%, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2019
US officials said they also plan sanctions against Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, which drew Mr Rouhani’s anger during his televised address on Tuesday.
“You sanction the foreign minister simultaneously with a request for talks,” he said, calling the sanctions “outrageous and idiotic”.
“The White House is afflicted by mental retardation and does not know what to do,” he added.
.@realDonaldTrump is 100% right that the US military has no business in the Persian Gulf. Removal of its forces is fully in line with interests of US and the world. But it's now clear that the #B_Team is not concerned with US interests—they despise diplomacy, and thirst for war.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 24, 2019
Mr Mousavi’s statement echoed that of Iran’s UN ambassador, Majid Takht Ravanchi, who warned on Monday that the situation in the Persian Gulf is “very dangerous” and any talks with the US are impossible in the face of escalating sanctions and intimidation.
Meanwhile, the US envoy at the United Nations, Jonathan Cohen, said the Trump administration’s aim is to get Tehran back to negotiations.
Productive meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud today to discuss heightened tensions in the region and the need to promote maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz. Freedom of navigation is paramount. pic.twitter.com/efuZq5EOpK
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 24, 2019
The sanctions were announced as US secretary of state Mike Pompeo held talks in the Middle East with officials in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia about building a broad, global coalition including Asian and European countries to counter Iran.
Mr Pompeo is likely to face a tough sell in Europe and Asia, particularly from those nations still committed to the 2015 nuclear deal.