TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's president lambasted new U.S. sanctions by the Trump administration targeting the country's foreign minister, describing the move Thursday as "childish" and a barrier to diplomacy.
Hassan Rouhani's remarks came after the Trump administration announced Wednesday that it had imposed financial sanctions on Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as part of its escalating campaign of pressure against the Islamic Republic.
The highly unusual action of penalizing another nation's top diplomat followed President Donald Trump's executive order placing sanctions on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"They have started doing childish things," Rouhani said in a speech in western Azerbaijan province. "Every day they claim: 'We want to negotiate with Iran, without any pre-conditions'. and then they put sanctions on the country's foreign minister," he said.
The European Union expressed its regret at the U.S. sanctions on Zarif and said it would continue to keep contact with him regardless of Washington's move.
"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 told reporters in Brussels.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged "maximum restraint at all levels" and said he has delivered that message to leaders publicly and privately.
"A minor miscalculation could lead to a major confrontation," the U.N. chief warned.
Guterres urged all parties to respect freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hurmuz and adjacent waterways, saying that "the last thing the world needs is a major confrontation in the Gulf that will have devastating implications on global security and the global economy."
The latest round of round of U.S. sanctions comes amid a spike in tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The U.S. has boosted its military presence in the Persian Gulf while Iran has begun openly exceeding limits on its nuclear activities set in a 2015 accord with world powers.
Trump withdrew the United States from Iran's nuclear deal, which Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China are still signatories to, before imposing crippling sanctions on the country, targeting key industries like Iran's oil exports and sending its economy into free fall.
Zarif, a relative moderate within Iran's clerically overseen political system, was an architect of the nuclear deal, which offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for internationally-monitored limits on its nuclear program.
U.S. sanctions targeting the foreign minister, however, do not inhibit Zarif's travels to New York for official United Nations business, in accordance with America's international obligations. They also have little impact on Zarif financially.
"It has no effect on me or my family, as I have no property or interests outside of Iran," Zarif himself tweeted about the U.S. move.
Meanwhile, the U.S. 5th Fleet said allied nations met in Bahrain on Wednesday to discuss a Trump administration initiative to boost maritime security in the Persian Gulf region. The U.S. has declined to name which countries participated in the meeting, which the statement said focused on ways to maritime security in the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and Gulf of Oman.
Trump administration officials have floated the idea of what's been named the "Sentinel Program" to allies, but already Germany has ruled out joining, saying priority should be given to diplomacy and efforts at de-escalation with Iran.