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Iran sees US in court over economic sanctions
Iran filed a lawsuit against the US at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday. Tehran demands the suspension of renewed US sanctions, which it says are devastating its economy. Sanctions had been lifted under a 2015 multilateral agreement in return for Iran committing to halt its nuclear weapons programme.
Earlier this year, US President Donald Trump unilaterally walked away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] calling it a “horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made.”
In spite of protests from other JCPOA partners like Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany, Trump signed an executive order, re-installing sanctions aimed at crippling the Iranian economy.
For Iran, trying to lift the sanctions by way of the ICJ is a long shot.
“There should be no doubt that Iran will put up the strongest resistance to the US economic strangulation,” according to the opening statements by the Iranian legal team at the Peace Palace in The Hague.
“But as the situation is evolving since 8 May this will be at the cost of unjust massive suffering and economic damages inflicted on the Iranian economy and forced [upon] the Iranian people.
Iran lawyers argue technicality between two treaties
“The United States has breached, and continues to breach multiple provisions of the 1955 Treaty of Amity."
Ironically, Iran bases its case against the country it routinely calls “the Great Satan” on a friendship treaty that was signed in August 1955 between the representative of the Shah, Mostapha Samiy, the Iranian Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs, and Selden Chapin, the US Ambassador to Iran.
This “Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights” was never revoked by either party, in spite of the 1979 Islamic revolution that deposed the Shah, and the subsequent 444 day siege of the US embassy in Tehran by radical students.
That 1955 treaty includes safeguards on commercial and diplomatic dealings and Article One specifically states that “There shall be firm and enduring peace and sincere friendship between the United States of America and Iran.”
But the question is if the ICJ will accept the 1955 treaty.
“You have an agreement at the “nuclear deal”, says Eric de Brabandere, a professor of International Dispute Settlement and director of the Grotius Center for International Legal Studies with Leiden University, ”and you have the treaty between the US and Iran, the 1955 Treaty of Amity.
“What Iran is basically doing is in invoking that treaty of Amity, to bring a dispute that relates to another agreement.
“The question will be whether the court will accept that you use one treaty to bring a dispute that is actually much broader than that treaty.
“The Nuclear Deal has its own clauses that relate to dispute settlement. It basically says that if you have disagreements on how the deal is being implemented, you can bring a claim to a joint committee that is established and so the whole question will be whether the court will consider that you should actually use that mechanism in the nuclear deal, rather than the Treaty of Amity,” he says.
But whatever happens, explains the Brabandere, the whole process may take up more than 4 years before the court comes to a conclusion.
New sanctions in November
And at the same time, the clock is ticking for Iran’s citizens.
"[Iran tries] everything on the diplomatic level to limit the damage to their country that was caused by President Trump withdrawing from the JCPOA,” says Efraim Inbar, a political scientist with Bar Ilan University.
“And I don’t think it will help the much. I think that as long as [US National Security Advisor John] Bolton and [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo have an influence over Trump, the economic and diplomatic pressure will continue.
“And the big test is November when another set of sanctions is going to be imposed. So the Iranians have time until November to do something with the Americans from preventing the new sanctions of coming into effect,” he says.
And even if the International Court of Justice, in the end, decides in favor of Iran, it remains to be seen if the US will comply.
In a worst case scenario, the US refuses to comply, the case may then go to the UN Security Council where the US has veto power, which it may use to block any decision that it may not like.