Tensions between the US and Iran have soared recently because of attacks on tankers in the Gulf, and Iran’s downing of a US drone.
Last month Steve Mncuhin, the US treasury secretary, indicated Mr Zarif would be blacklisted.
However, it it was believed at that point Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, was among those against the move.
Following the decision, a senior US official said: “President Trump decided enough is enough. He is sending a clear message to the regime its recent behaviour is completely unacceptable.
“For far too long Zarif has had this veneer, not great, of being the reasonable interlocutor for the Iranian regime. He is no such thing.
“He implements the reckless policy of the supreme leader, and he is the regime’s primary spokesman around the world.”
The official added: “The US has historically placed faith in diplomacy but there are limits to our patience when a nation so routinely flouts these protocols.”
He said a number of factors had been taken into consideration including Mr Zarif’s defence of the execution of gay people.