Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday that the United States's announcement this week was targeting Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, and reflected "childish behavior," the Iranian official news agency IRNA reported.
The Trump administration on Wednesday announced it was sanctioning Zarif for acting as a "propaganda minister" on behalf of Iran’s supreme leader, himself sanctioned by the United States in June.
While critics condemned the administration for seeming to close the door to diplomacy, the White House argued this week that Zarif now holds less sway. The official said that if the United States wanted to speak with Iran, it would talk to "somebody who's a significant decision maker."
Rouhani on Thursday, though, wrote on Twitter that Zarif "ably talks & negotiates on behalf of the entire nation" of Iran. He said the U.S. move "indicates that White House is frightened by his diplomatic capabilities."
Trump on June 24 signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Iran's leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the administration said on Wednesday that the sanctions on Zarif fell under that order. National security adviser John Bolton told Fox News on Thursday that Zarif was "just a mouthpiece" for Iran -- labeling him "a conman," "a shill" and "a grifter."
Zarif negotiated Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. He has served as a key conduit between foreign diplomats and Iran's leadership for years, and has worked to salvage the nuclear agreement after Trump pulled the United States out of it last year.
The European Union said it regretted the U.S. decision and would still work with the foreign minister, according to the Associated Press.
"We will continue to work with Mr. Zarif, as Iran’s most senior diplomat, and in view of the importance of maintaining diplomatic channels," European Commission spokesman Carlos Martin Ruiz de Gordejuela said in Brussels, the AP reported.
Zarif himself dismissed the sanctions, writing in a tweet Wednesday that they would have "no effect on me or my family."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo granted a visa for Zarif to visit the United States last month -- but limited him to visiting just a few locations in New York, including the United Nations and Iran's diplomatic mission there. The senior administration official on Wednesday said future travel to the United States would be considered "on a case-by-case basis."