The United States has decided not to slap sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for now, an indication that Washington may not be closing the door to diplomacy in the tense dispute between the two countries.
Reuters on July 11 cited two sources familiar with the matter in reporting the decision, although they did not give specific reasons for the move.
US officials did not immediately respond to requests for comments on the report.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in June that President Donald Trump had authorized him to impose sanctions on Zarif.
The announcement was seen by some as being an unusual forewarning of a target of a potential action – which could allow a sanctioned individual to move assets outside of US jurisdiction.
But the sanctioning of Iran’s top diplomat would also be an unusual move because it would disrupt any US move to resolve its standoff with Iran over the country’s nuclear program, regional matters, and missile testing.
Zarif is expected to attend a meeting at the United Nations next week. To enter the United States, Washington would need to grant him a visa, which would be another sign US officials are holding off on sanctions on Zarif for the time being.
A senior US administration official told reporters recently that "we're obviously exploring our various avenues for additional sanctions against Tehran. Obviously, Foreign Minister Zarif is a figure of key interest and we'll update you...as we have more information."
Zarif played down the threat of possible US sanctions, saying on July 4 that he did not own any property or have any bank accounts outside Iran.
"So I have no personal problem with possible sanctions," he said.
The United States began reimposing damaging sanctions on Tehran after Trump in May 2018 pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal that had given Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
Tensions have soared in recent days between Tehran and Washington and some of its allies, raising fears of an armed conflict in the region.
On July 11, Britain said three Iranian boats “attempted to impede” a British oil tanker in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, in a move that followed threats by Tehran that London would face consequences for the seizure of an Iranian supertanker last week.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) denied trying to stop the British tanker, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported on July 11.
Zarif dismissed the British report as intended to “create tension” and called it "worthless," according to Fars.
The incident came almost a week after British Royal Marines boarded an Iranian tanker, the Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar and seized it over suspicions it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
Iran has demanded the immediate release of the oil tanker. An IRGC commander threatened on July 5 to seize a British ship in retaliation.