On July 31, 2019, the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) designated Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. This designation was done pursuant to Executive Order 13876. Zarif is accused of acting on behalf of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Foreign Minister’s role as a spokesman for Iran’s Government provided the US Government sufficient authority to designate Mr. Zarif and place this person on the Specially Designated Nationals list. OFAC also stated that Mr. Zarif’s Foreign Ministry was involved in providing funds to foreign officials to support IRGC Quds Force members who were previously imprisoned.

Executive Order 13876

Executive Order 13876, which was signed and put into effect on June 24, 2019, permits such a designation. The President was granted the power to issue this executive order by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, The National Emergencies Act, as well as The Immigration Laws present in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, and Section 301 of Title 3 U.S.C.

This executive order provides that for any person who is designated for the underlying reasons, their property is blocked and may not be transferred. Designations apply to the Supreme Leader or anyone determined by the Secretaries of Treasury and State to be appointed by the Supreme Leader in any state capacity. This executive order also limits immigrant and nonimmigrant entry of any individuals determined to fit this criteria.

Background and Justification for the Sanctions

The Trump Administration has not succeeded in securing a deal with Iran under their Maximum Pressure Campaign. Recently, Mr. Zarif was in New York communicating with the US media on the issues involved and certain conditions to negotiating any form of agreement with the United States. These events, as well as Foreign Minister Zarif’s ties with the previous administration, may have some influence on the decision.

Legally speaking, the Supreme Leader of Iran does have broad authority over Iran’s Government, so generally anyone in the executive branch is under their command and control. Some statements have indicated that the United States may not want to deal with the Foreign Minister and does not want any other foreign persons or entities to provide financial services or support to Mr. Zarif or anyone under the control of the Supreme Leader.

Impact of the Zarif Designation

This designation means is that a US person is prohibited in engaging in any transactions or dealings with the Foreign Minister Zarif, and any property is blocked if Mr. Zarif enters Europe, the United States, or any US jurisdiction. Anyone engaging in significant transactions with the Foreign Minister may also risk being designated themselves. Mr. Zarif has stated that there is no interest in property outside of Iran, and these sanctions will not directly affect him.

This does not bode well for US-Iran political relations. At its peak, the JCPOA provided valuable communication channels between the United States and Iran to calm tensions and preemptively avoid any further military and political conflict. With this designation, it is clear that the Trump Administration is taking a different path. Communication channels may have been entirely severed due to the ramp-up of US sanctions on both Iran and Iranian officials.

Other parties to the JCPOA have expressed that they will continue to communicate, negotiate, and work with Foreign Minister Zarif despite the designation. Many do not recognize the actions of the United States as productive to the nuclear non-proliferation efforts that the international communities have taken. Many believe this has heightened tensions in the region, and without proper communication with Iran’s Foreign Minister, diplomacy is impeded.

Consult with an OFAC Attorney

If you or your company does business with Iranian companies or nationals, it is important to maintain a robust sanctions compliance program. For help staying abreast of the latest developments in US sanctions law, speak to a knowledgeable OFAC attorney.