The hardline Iranian media – particularly outlets affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) – has attacked President Hassan Rouhani for pledging to make efforts to remove remaining U.S. sanctions against Iran if reelected. The I.R.G.C.-affiliated Fars News Agency, for example, called on Rouhani to avoid making “ludicrous” campaign promises. “Regardless of whether this issue will be within the framework of the state’s overall policies or if the aforesaid person [Rouhani] intends to achieve another J.C.P.O.A. [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; the 2015 Iran nuclear deal] regarding the missile program or over Iran’s deterrence power in the restive West Asia region, the key point is that most of the troubling sanctions against Iran are the U.S. sanctions,” the article explained. It added that removing these sanctions would require Tehran to negotiate directly with Washington. “While the Trump administration is seeking to implement the J.C.P.O.A. in a strict manner and some Foreign Ministry officials of the 11th government openly say that he [Trump] and his administration are the biggest obstacle to the J.C.P.O.A. – and Mr. [Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif have also written in his Twitter page that America has been committed neither to the text nor the spirit of the J.C.P.O.A. – how realistic and productive can dialogue with the Trump administration be?” it asked.

Comment: Rouhani, who is seeking a second term in May 19 elections, has repeatedly touted the nuclear agreement he signed with the United States and five other world powers almost two years ago as the biggest achievement of his administration – trying to convince the voters that the accord lifted most of international sanctions on Iran, helped improve the country’s economy, and removed the “shadow of war” from Iran. In the final televised presidential debate, the Iranian president went a step further and vowed to remove the remaining U.S. and European sanctions on Iran if the voters gave him another chance. “I will engage myself in lifting all the non-nuclear sanctions during the coming four years and bring back the grandeur of Iran and the Iranian people,” he said.

Rouhani was already criticized by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and I.R.G.C. leaders for claiming that the nuclear deal prevented a potential U.S. or Israel military attack against Iran. The hardliners claimed that the country’s defensive and military power has deterred any foreign aggression. The president’s latest comment about existing U.S. sanctions has generated a similar backlash by hardliners. Khamenei and I.R.G.C. leaders have repeatedly made it clear that Iran will not negotiate with the United States regarding non-nuclear issues – particularly on Iran’s controversial missile program, Tehran’s regional role, or human rights abuses in the country.

Although most of nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted in January 2016, remaining U.S. unilateral sanctions and the Trump administration’s tougher approach vis-à-vis Tehran have dissudaded foreign companies to do business with Iran. As a result, most Iranians have not reaped the benefits of the nuclear accord. Thus, Rouhani is trying to convince disillusioned supporters to give him another chance to negotiate with the West and remove the existing sanctions that discourage foreign investment.