Iran said on Tuesday new U.S. sanctions against its leaders marked the end of diplomacy with Washington, after President Donald Trump threatened the country with “obliteration.”
Trump imposed new sanctions on Monday against Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and top military chiefs, further raising the stakes in an escalating regional standoff.
The U.S. Treasury said it would also blacklist Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif—a moderate figure and key architect of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—and eight top commanders from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Tuesday that “imposing fruitless sanctions against Iran’s supreme leader and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy is the permanent closure of the path to diplomacy with Trump’s desperate government.”
“Trump’s government is destroying all established international mechanisms for keeping global peace and security,” he said in a tweet.
Washington’s move came after Iran shot down a U.S. spy drone last week and Trump launched a retaliatory strike, cancelling it at the last minute. That follows a series of attacks on ships in sensitive Gulf waters, which the U.S. has blamed on Iran—claims hotly denied by Tehran.
U.S. media have also reported Trump secretly authorized cyber-attacks against Iran’s missile defense systems and a spy network, but Tehran says no damage was done. Trump called Monday’s sanctions a “strong and proportionate response to Iran’s increasingly provocative actions.”
“We do not ask for conflict,” Trump said, adding that depending on Iran’s response the sanctions could end tomorrow or “years from now.”
Tehran and Washington broke off diplomatic relations in 1980 over the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran following Iran’s Islamic revolution.
The latest tensions come a year after Trump unilaterally withdrew from a multilateral pact with Iran over its nuclear program.
Iran has since said it will drop adherence to some of the limits the deal imposed on its nuclear activities, but has insisted its atomic program is entirely for civilian purposes.
U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Israel have long pushed Washington to act aggressively against Iran.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that his country, widely believed to have its own undeclared nuclear arsenal, would do “everything” to stop Iran getting such a weapon.
Speaking in Jerusalem on Tuesday, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Iran had failed to respond to an offer to negotiate with Washington. “The president has held the door open to real negotiations,” Bolton said during a visit to Jerusalem. “In response, Iran’s silence has been deafening.”
But Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the new sanctions showed Washington was “lying” about its offer. “At the same time as you call for negotiations you seek to sanction the foreign minister? It’s obvious that you’re lying,” Rouhani said in a meeting with ministers broadcast live on TV.
The U.N. Security Council has called for dialogue to address the standoff.
Iran’s U.N. ambassador said his country, already crippled by existing U.S. sanctions that include the blocking of most of its own crucial oil exports, is being subjected to “economic war.”
“You cannot start a dialogue with somebody who is threatening you, who is intimidating you,” Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi told reporters in New York.
Trump also declared on Monday that other countries should no longer expect U.S. forces to police the Gulf. “All of these countries should be protecting their own ships,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “We don’t even need to be there.”
Iran welcomed his statement. It is “100% right that the U.S. military has no business in the Persian Gulf. Removal of its forces is fully in line with interests of U.S. and the world,” Zarif tweeted.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met on Monday with leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, telling them to contribute more to maritime surveillance duties near Iran.
Pompeo said he was working to build what he called a “global coalition” against the Islamic republic.
On Sunday, Trump told an NBC television interview that if it came to war, Iran would experience “obliteration like you’ve never seen before.” But he has also said he is open to negotiations with Iran’s leaders. “I think Iran, potentially, has a phenomenal future,” he said.