Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has warned that his government is “completely ready” to restart its nuclear program if the United States fails to adhere to the 2015 nuclear agreement. “If America reneges on the deal to the level that the continuation of the J.C.P.O.A. [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] harms our national interests, the Islamic Republic of Iran is completely ready to return to the pre-J.C.P.O.A. situation and will be even stronger,” he was by the state-controlled Islamic Republic News Agency on Monday.  “In the past two months, as a result of efforts and notable capabilities of our country’s nuclear scientists, we have been able to bring into operation the most advanced centrifuges that were only an idea at the time the J.C.P.O.A. was approved [July 2015].” The Iranian foreign minister also credited Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani for devising the nuclear agreement in such a way that allows Iran to resume and accelerate its nuclear activities if the United States does not live up to its commitments as part of the accord. 

Comment: Zarif’s provocative remarks are aimed at both placating the hardliners in the run-up to the presidential elections and threatening Washington against increasing pressure on Tehran. Over the past two months, the Trump administration has imposed new sanctions against Tehran and has vowed to work with Washington’s traditional allies in the Middle East to push back against Iran’s subversive activities in the region.

As far Iran's domestic politics is concerned, Khamenei and other hardliners have recently criticized the economic record of President Hassan Rouhani, who is set to run for reelection this May. They argue that the Rouhani government’s economic policies and the nuclear deal have not benefited the Iranian economy significantly. “With all my soul, I feel the pain of the people, particularly the lower class, and their problems such as high prices, unemployment, discrimination, inequalities and social tragedies,” Khamenei said this week in a televised address to the Iranian people marking Nowruz, the Persian New Year. While most of international nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted in January 2016, unilateral American sanctions have deterred international companies from investing in and doing business with Iran. As a result, the nuclear deal has not simulated economic growth and job creation most Iranians expected. But while Iranian leaders blame the economic stagnation on U.S. sanctions, widespread corruption and government mismanagement are equally to blame.