The nuclear issue and the crippling impact of sanctions on the Iranian economy, so far largely avoided by the candidates, appear to be turning into an important part of discussions and debates.

The turning point came Monday when former Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Javad Zarif made a bold entrance into the election scene alongside the pro-reform candidate Masoud Pezeshkian with a fiery speech at a televised roundtable discussion.

“The whole of Pezeshkian’s candidacy, even if he is not elected, was worth the few minutes that Zarif spoke to the people on TV. These words were anti-spell to the one-sided slanders of the extremists. The reign of lie will not last,” Mohammadreza Javadi Yeganeh, professor of sociology at Tehran University, tweeted after Zarif’s speech Monday.

Zarif who has always insisted that the 2015 JCPOA agreement with world powers was signed with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s full approval, defended the Rouhani administration and his own performance in crafting the deal and its immediate economic outcome.

He also showed a few graphs to prove the deal and the lifting of sanctions had helped Iran's economic growth in 2016 and 2017 and asserted that hardliners’ ability to sell more oil since 2021, in which they take huge pride, was solely due to US President Joe Biden loosening the sanctions.

Ultra-hardliner Saeed Jalili who is one of the top three contenders to the presidency said Tuesday in response to Zarif’s remarks, “Today I heard that [someone] has said it was Trump [who imposed sanctions on Iran] and that [Joe] Biden had a different approach. Why did you not continue [your talks with him] during the nine months of your time when Biden was [president]?”

In fact, The Rouhani administration did participate in in indirect talks with the United States from April to June 2021, but they did not reach an agreement before the end of his term and the election of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, who took office in August of that year.

“Biden not only did not remove Trump’s sanctions but also imposed tens of other sanctions,” Jalili added.

“Mr. Zarif's statements yesterday were wrong, and he was unfair. I will answer his insult tomorrow [in televised campaign programs],” ultra-hardliner candidate Alireza Zakani, who many believe is playing a supporting act to Jalili, said Tuesday.

Zarif has thrown all his weight behind Pezeshkian, a former lawmaker and health minister previously little known to many ordinary Iranians, particularly the younger generation, who may potentially cast their ballots for Pezeshkian if swayed to vote rather than boycott the elections.

The former foreign minister accompanied Pezeshkian Tuesday morning at a campaign trip to Isfahan, Iran's third-largest city and delivered a short speech at his campaign meeting in Tehran in the evening of the same day when he urged Iranians to vote for Pezeshkian. “Not voting is voting for the [hardliner] minority,” he said.

So far Pezeshkian has made no indication that he intends to propose Zarif as his foreign minister to the newly elected, hardliner-dominated parliament if he is voted president.

In a meeting on Wednesday with his former deputies and ministers, former President Hassan Rouhani also accused Jalili and the three other hardliner candidates, namely Zakani, Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf, and Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh, of only believing in “war and confrontation”.

“They say we have no way other than fighting and confronting the world powers and defeating them and that [Iran] will never win in the United Nations and negotiations with big countries,” Rouhani, who was barred from running in the elections of the Expediency Council in March by the Guardian Council, said.

At an economic roundtable discussion Wednesday, conservative candidate Mostafa Pourmohammadi also touched upon the issue of the nuclear deal and sanctions. He said his government would complete the “unfinished” business of the JCPOA, which he describes as "not perfect" while accusing hardliners of sabotaging the talks.

“Pressures and damages [caused by sanctions] are serious and certain imprudent actions have increased the damages,” the conservative Pourmohammadi who insists he will negotiate even with the "bitterest enemy" said.

More News