Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that his country preferred abiding by the 2015 international agreement on its nuclear program, but that if the United States continued "threats and sanctions," then Iran could quickly revitalize its nuclear activity to a level even higher than it was before the deal went into effect.
Speaking to members of parliament in a televised address, Rouhani said the U.S. was not a "good partner."
"Those who are trying to go back to the language of threats and sanctions are prisoners of their past hallucinations," Rouhani said. "They deprive themselves of the advantages of peace."
Iran objects to new sanctions U.S. President Donald Trump signed this month against people involved with Iran's ballistic missile program and its Revolutionary Guard, which came in response to Iranian ballistic missile tests.
The two countries each say the other's actions violate the spirit of the nuclear agreement.
"Iran cannot be allowed to use the nuclear deal to hold the world hostage," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a statement. "Iran, under no circumstances, can ever be allowed to have nuclear weapons. At the same time, however, we must also continue to hold Iran responsible for its missile launches, support for terrorism, disregard for human rights and violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions."
She added that the nuclear deal must not become "too big to fail."
"For the secretary-general, I think he considers the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to be one of the utmost diplomatic achievements in our collective search for peace and security," a spokesperson for U.N. chief António Guterres said in response to reporters' questions. "And we need to do whatever we can to preserve it."
The 2015 deal was agreed upon after lengthy negotiations between Iran and the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany. In exchange for limits on Tehran's nuclear program, most international sanctions were lifted, giving the Iranian government access to billions of dollars. Iran has repeatedly denied that it was pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its program was strictly for peaceful purposes.
Indiana University analyst Hussein Banai told VOA that Rouhani's comments sent the message that Iranian hard-liners and moderates were united behind the country's missile program.
The U.S. has objected to the missile tests, but they are not mentioned in the nuclear deal text. A U.N. resolution endorsing the deal has a section that "calls upon" Iran to avoid such tests without specifically banning them.
"The missile program was not directly part of the nuclear deal, but it certainly inches very close to violating the spirit of the deal, and in any event the sanctions, Iranians would argue, have done that already," Banai said. "So I think that language of spirit versus letter of the agreement can be set aside now. We just have to watch and hope that the actual terms of the agreement are not up for violation next."