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Iran's Zarif Says U.S. Sanctions On Him Highlight Washington's Diplomatic 'Failure'

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a news conference in Tehran on August 5.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says sanctions imposed on him by the United States show Washington's "failure" to find a diplomatic solution to ease tensions in the Persian Gulf.

Zarif told a news conference on August 5 in Tehran that the White House imposed financial sanctions on him last week after he refused an invitation to meet U.S. President Donald Trump.

The move against Zarif, similar to one imposed a month earlier against Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is seen by many analysts as a risky move since it may put up another block in the road to negotiations.

"Imposing sanctions against a foreign minister means failure" for any efforts at dialogue, said Zarif, who has already called the sanctions against him "childish."

Tensions between the two countries have soared since the United States in May 2018 withdrew from the 2015 international nuclear deal that aimed to curb the country's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

In announcing the sanctions, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin accused the foreign minister of implementing Khamenei's "reckless agenda" and described Zarif as the Iranian "regime's primary spokesperson around the world."

Trump has said publicly several times that he is willing to hold talks with the Iranians even as he implements his campaign of "maximum pressure."

Zarif said Tehran would only consider resuming talks if the economic sanctions, which he described as "a gun to Iran's head," were eased.

"They were the ones who left the table, sanctioned the foreign minister of Iran, sanctioned the highest authority of the Islamic republic. Who do they want to negotiate with?" he said.

Zarif's comments came a day after Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said it had seized a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf that it said was smuggling fuel to "some Arab countries."

Iran also detained a Panamanian-flagged tanker last month for allegedly smuggling oil in the Persian Gulf, and in July seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, a key shipping line that connects the gulf and the Arabian Sea, for allegedly violating maritime laws.

That move was seen as a response to Britain's impounding of an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar. London said the Iranian vessel was suspected of breaching EU sanctions against Syria. Iran denied it was headed to that country.

In response to the seizures, along with two separate attacks using explosives that damaged oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in May and June, Washington has been seeking to build a coalition to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.

But its efforts have faltered as several European countries such as Germany have been reluctant to join, fearing such a mission could lead to armed conflict.

While U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on August 4 that he was "very confident" the United States would be able to build the security coalition, Zarif seized on Pompeo's lack details on which countries may be willing to participate as a sign that the allies are too "ashamed" to join in.

"Today the United States is alone in the world and cannot create a coalition. Countries that are its friends are too ashamed of being in a coalition with them," Zarif said.

Still, Zarif did not rule out future talks with the United States, adding that he believed "Mr. Trump does not seek war."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP