DUBAI • New US sanctions against Iran's Supreme Leader and Foreign Minister have closed off diplomacy, Iran said yesterday, blaming the United States for abandoning the only route to peace just days after the two foes came within minutes of conflict.
US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday imposing sanctions on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other senior figures. Sanctions against Foreign Minister Javad Zarif are expected later this week.
The moves came after Iran shot down a US drone last week and Mr Trump called off a retaliatory air strike minutes before impact, which would have been the first time the US had bombed Iran in the decades of hostility between them.
Mr Trump said he decided at the last minute that too many people would die in the strike.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokes-man Abbas Mousavi said on Twitter: "Imposing useless sanctions on Iran's Supreme Leader and the commander of Iran's diplomacy is the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy."
"Trump's desperate administration is destroying the established international mechanisms for maintaining world peace and security," he added.
In a televised address, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that sanctions against Ayatollah Khamenei would have no practical impact because the cleric had no assets abroad.
Mr Rouhani, a pragmatist who won two elections on promises to open Iran up to the world, described the US moves as desperate, and called the White House "mentally retarded", an insult Iranian officials have used in the past about Mr Trump, but a departure from Mr Rouhani's own comparatively measured tone.
Mr Rouhani and his Cabinet run Iran's day-to-day affairs, while Ayatollah Khamenei, in power since 1989, is Iran's ultimate authority.
"The White House actions mean it is mentally retarded," Mr Rouhani said. "Teheran's strategic patience does not mean we have fear."
Mr Trump's hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton, visiting Israel, repeated earlier offers to hold talks, as long as Iran was willing to go beyond the terms of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers which Mr Trump abandoned last year.
"The President has held the door open to real negotiations to completely and verifiably eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons programme, its pursuit of ballistic missile delivery systems, its support for international terrorism and other malign behaviour worldwide," Mr Bolton said in Jerusalem. "All that Iran needs to do is to walk through that open door."
The US has imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran since last year, when Mr Trump withdrew from an agreement between Teheran and world powers to curb Iran's nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.
The crisis has escalated sharply since last month, when the Trump administration tightened the sanctions, ordering all countries to halt purchases of Iranian oil.
That effectively starved the Iranian economy of the main source of revenue Teheran uses to import food for its 81 million people, and left Iran's pragmatic faction with no benefits to show for its nu-clear agreement.
Washington says the 2015 agreement did not go far enough because it is not permanent and does not cover issues beyond the nuclear programme, such as missiles and regional behaviour. Iran says there is no point negotiating with the US when it has abandoned a deal that was already reached.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo jetted to the Middle East on Monday to meet leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Gulf Arab states that favour the toughest possible line against Iran.
He talked to Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about "heightened tensions in the region and the need for stronger maritime security to promote freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz".
US envoy for Iran Brian Hook is visiting European allies who support the nuclear deal. They believe Mr Trump's decision to quit the accord has strengthened Iran's hardline faction, weakened its pragmatists and endangered regional peace.
The United Nations Security Council on Monday called for dialogue and measures to end tensions in the Gulf.
Yesterday, Iran said it will take new steps to reduce its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal on July 7, saying that European signatories to the deal had not done enough to save it. Iran had previously said it cannot continue to comply with the deal indefinitely unless European countries find ways to protect it from US sanctions.