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French President Macron with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

Since the U.S.' exit from the Iran nuclear deal, Iran has doubled down on its diplomatic strategy to pressure Europe into offsetting the effect of American sanctions, which are slated to return by November. But Iran also appears to be hedging its bets, claiming to remain committed to the limited restrictions on its nuclear program while professing interest in boosting its enrichment capabilities and centrifuge manufacturing.

The big picture: Iran — along with the EU, China and Russia — wants to keep the accord to remove the stigma surrounding its nuclear program and put the Islamic Republic on a path toward reintegration into the global economy. But large businesses, including energy, shipping and manufacturing firms, are already winding down operations in the country and will have to terminate their investments absent a waiver.

To stop this trend, Iran has responded by leveraging fear, stating its intent to incrementally increase its nuclear capacity so that European politicians, banks and businesses provide Iran with sufficient incentives to abide by the deal. However, it's not clear how successful Europe’s initial efforts have been, as most banks remain risk-averse.

What's next: Iran will likely wait at least until the 90- and 180-day sanctions-implementation dates before taking any drastic action. The U.S., gearing up to enforce sanctions, will likely continue threatening secondary sanctions while adding other parties involved in, or supportive of, Iranian malign activities to the Specially Designated Nationals list.

The bottom line: Iran’s highly public interest in expanding its nuclear capacity is its way of responding to diplomatic and economic withdrawal. A form of graduated escalation, it signals the path Iran might take should the deal fail.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Go deeper

Matt Gaetz targets CNN in new ad amid sexual misconduct claims

Rep. Matt Gaetz in Doral, Florida, last week. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) announced Wednesday a six-figure ad buy for a spot that takes aim at CNN as part of an offensive to hit back at mounting sexual misconduct allegations, Politico first reported.

Driving the news: Gaetz is under federal investigation following sex trafficking allegations, and the House Ethics Committee has also opened an inquiry. Announcing the 30-second ad, to run in his Florida Panhandle district, Gaetz called on his Twitter followers to "help us fight back!"

Focus group: Red flags for Biden infrastructure plan

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Some swing voters say President Biden needs to better explain who'll pay for his $2 trillion infrastructure plan — and they'll only back bipartisan legislation that's paid for by corporations, not the middle class.

Why it matters: These takeaways from our latest Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups offer crucial context for an administration basing much of its legislative strategy on polls showing Americans notionally favor spending on roads, bridges, job training and broadband access.