By Sune Engel Rasmussen in Beirut, Aresu Eqbali in Tehran and Dov Lieber in Jerusalem
Iran said Tuesday new U.S. sanctions on its supreme leader closed the door on diplomacy and threatened global stability, as American officials renewed efforts to build a global alliance against Tehran.
President Trump on Monday signed an executive order designating Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a new round of sanctions aimed at top Iranian leaders, including Mr. Khamenei's office and associates. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. would later this week sanction Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as well.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the new sanctions "outrageous and stupid." Mr. Khamenei, while the political leader of Iran, also is one of the world's leading authorities for Shia Muslims.
"Would any administration with a bit of wisdom [sanction] the highest authority of a country? And not only a political authority, a religious, social, spiritual one, and not the leader of Iran only, the leader of the Islamic revolution all over the world?" Mr. Rouhani said in a speech broadcast on state television.
He said it was "obvious" that the U.S. was lying about wanting to negotiate with Iran: "You want us to negotiate with you again?" Mr. Rouhani said, "and at the same time you seek to sanction the foreign minister too?"
White House national security adviser John Bolton, in Jerusalem for rare gathering of his Israeli and Russian counterparts, called on Iran to negotiate a new, broader agreement to supersede the 2015 nuclear deal, which the Trump administration withdrew from in May 2018 and imposed a crippling round of sanctions on Iranian industries and organizations.
"The president has held the door open to real negotiations that completely and verifiably end Iran's nuclear weapons program, its pursuit of ballistic missile delivery systems and support for international terrorism and its other malign behavior world-wide. All that Iran needs to do is walk through that open door," Mr. Bolton said in remarks ahead of Tuesday's meeting.
Mr. Bolton rejected Iranian demands that sanctions be lifted as a condition of talks, saying Tehran would "either get the point" from current restrictions, or "we will simply enhance the maximum pressure campaign further."
"It will be I think the combination of sanctions and other pressure that does bring Iran to the table," Mr. Bolton told reporters after talks designed to get Russia's help with Iran. "Their say-so that they'll engage in serious negotiations if we give them relief lacks a certain amount of credibility."
Mr. Bolton warned Iran against actions like downing an American surveillance drone last week over the Gulf of Oman, or a series of tanker attacks that the U.S. blames Iran for and rockets and missiles fired by Tehran-aligned militias in the region.
"It would be a big mistake for Iran to continue this kind of behavior," Mr. Bolton said.
The U.S. and Israel see Russia as a key mediator to help rein in Iran. Russia and Iran helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remain in power through a brutal civil war, but cracks in their partnership have begun to show, as the two countries vie for power in a postconflict Syria.
Russian national security adviser Nikolai Patrushev said Iran and Russia "can influence each other and listen to each other." But he stopped short of committing to removing Iran's presence in Syria, where Tehran has funded and trained militias that Israel sees as an urgent national-security threat.
"We are aware of Israel's concerns and hope the threats will be removed so that Israel will be safe," Mr. Patrushev said. "But we also need to remember the interest of other regional powers. Should we ignore them, we won't achieve concrete results."
Iran's foreign ministry echoed Mr. Rouhani, saying Washington signaled it wasn't genuine about wanting to talk to Tehran because it is sanctioning Iran's most senior diplomat.
"The useless sanctions against Iran's leader and the commander of diplomacy means the permanent closure of the channel of diplomacy with the desperate U.S. administration," foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Twitter.
"The Trump administration is destroying all the customary, international mechanisms for preserving global peace and security."
Hesameddin Ashena, a top aide to President Rouhani, said sanctions on Mr. Zarif would turn the foreign minister into "Iran's Mandela."
"He fought against domestic apartheid," Mr. Ashena said on Twitter, likely referring to Mr. Zarif's diplomatic efforts in bringing together disparate political factions in Iran, "and now he will fight international apartheid."
Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
June 25, 2019 08:54 ET (12:54 GMT)
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