As he had promised, Donald Trump unleashed the most formidable restrictions at Iran. Last week, he announced new sanctions against that country's supreme and spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his administration, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and eight senior commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The White House blocked these individuals' access to financial instruments of foreign financial institutions, as well as to their foreign assets allegedly amounting to billions of dollars. The sanctions came in response to actions of the IRGC air defense units' shooting down an American drone after it violated the airspace of Iran in the Strait of Hormuz.
By signing punitive financial measures in the Oval Office, Trump referred to them as representing "a strong and proportionate response to Iran's increasingly provocative actions."
What was the fault of blacklisted Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif? Perhaps the point is that being a talented diplomat of moderate views, the head of the Iranian Foreign Ministry is the key architect of the notorious 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and a group of six international mediators (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), which Trump quit three years later, calling the agreement approved by the UN Security Council resolution good-for-nothing.
Tehran regarded the sanctions against Zarif as a hostile and absolutely inconsistent step. On the one hand, the United States claims to be open to dialogue with the Islamic Republic, on the other it rules out negotiation and "punishes" the chief Iranian negotiator. "Imposing useless sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader (Ayatollah Khamenei) and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy (Javad Zarif) is the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy for Trump's desperate administration," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi responded to the new restrictions. Moreover, the sanctions only enhanced Zarif's image of an efficient diplomat in the eyes of his fellow citizens, demonstrating the Iranian Foreign Minister's proactive attitude in confronting the hostile administration of the White House.
Remarkably, the US sanctions used to affect economic aspects alone – the energy sector, the banking sector, and the military-industrial complex. And now it is for the first time that they target the head of state and the minister of foreign affairs, which means an increase in political pressure on the Islamic Republic. The sanctions' nature also demonstrates that other than war measures of pressure on Iran have been exhausted. As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, they prove Washington's desperation and confusion. As for restrictions against the spiritual leader, the head of the Iranian Cabinet says they testify to the enemy's being completely out of senses.
However, sanctions against Ayatollah Khamenei are not as harmless and meaningless as they may seem at first sight. Not everyone in Iran can imagine the country's top officials' standard of living. Large-scale corruption scandals related to the enrichment of high-ranking officials break out in the Islamic Republic on an incredibly regular basis.
Information about Ayatollah's wealth appeared in November 2013, while negotiations on the future nuclear agreement were in full swing, with Reuters behind this. The agency argued that the spiritual leader's private fortune was rooted in the Headquarters for Executing the Order of the Imam (Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate Emam). The organization was established by Imam Khomeini shortly after the Islamic revolution of 1979 to manage the property abandoned by the Shah's family and other rich Iranian families who had left the country. The income from managing this property should go to charity. As yet, the company's business has been significantly expanded and is handled by the head and spiritual leader of the IRI.
The introduction of sanctions against Khamenei's "billions" is intended to arouse at least partial distrust of Iran's population of the country's top official who embodies the foundations of the Islamic Republic. Just a reminder: one of the goals pursued by the Washington administration is to provoke socio-economic tensions in Iran and to bring people to the streets. And then a revolution will be not far off. Overseas political strategists know their trade and act so as to cultivate this tension, expecting that the seed of doubt about Khamenei's really having some hidden riches will sprout one day.
Therefore, the Iranian authorities still had to respond to the news about Ayatollah's foreign assets. "Sanctions on the property of the Supreme Leader is nonsense when the property of the Leader is just a simple house," the IRNA Agency quotes Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as saying. "Our country's leaders are not like the leaders of the rest of the world who have billions in their foreign accounts."
It has to be said that Ayatollah Khamenei's personal life is unfathomable. But he really does not go abroad and hence needs no foreign assets. Moreover, Iran has been living under US sanctions for the last forty years, so it the head of state would scarcely entrust his funds to a foreign bank, on top of that in dollars.
Iranian citizens and foreign tourists can judge about a spiritual leader's life by the former residence of Imam Khomeini, the Islamic revolution leader and founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. His memorial house is open to the public, located somewhere in the narrow streets of the old part of Northern Tehran and being a very modest, if not ascetic place, which contrasts strongly with the nearby Niavaran Palace Complex, the luxurious residence of Iran's last Shahs.