Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called a decision by the United States to sanction Iran’s foreign minister as “childish” amid rising tensions between the two countries.

In its latest move aimed at ratcheting up its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, Washington on Wednesday said it was imposing sanctions on Mohammad Javad Zarif for acting on behalf of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – who is also subject to recently-imposed US sanctions.

In a televised address on Thursday, Rouhani said the US was “resorting to childish behaviour … They were claiming ever day ‘We want to talk, with no preconditions’ … and then they sanction the foreign minister.

The US, which last year unilaterally withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers in 2015, has previously proposed unconditional talks with Tehran – even as it reimposed punishing economic sanctions, including measures aimed at slashing Iran’s oil exports to zero.

In his speech, Rouhani also accused the US of being “afraid” of Zarif, who recently gave a series of wide-ranging interviews to foreign media in New York.

In one of them, Zarif hit back at US President Donald Trump’s call for new nuclear negotiations that encompass its ballistic missiles programme, and accused Washington of bringing the Middle East to the brink of “explosion” by selling arms to allies in the Gulf.

“They are afraid of our foreign minister’s interviews,” Rouhani said. “It is completely clear that the foundations of the White House have been shaken by the words and logic of an informed, devoted and diplomatic individual”.

“Our enemies are so helpless that they have lost the ability to act and think wisely”. 

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