A complex legal battle predicted between Iran and the US

Thursday, 2018-08-30 11:32:30
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Mohammed Zahedin Labbaf, Director of the Center for International Legal Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, is seen before a hearing for alleged violations of the 1955 Treaty of Amity between Iran and the US, at the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands August 27, 2018. (Reuters)
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NDO – The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the Netherlands, has opened a trial on a legal dispute between Iran and the US over Washington’s resumption of sanctions against the country, which have undermined Tehran’s economy. The lawyers of the two sides have prepared full arguments and files and remain ready for a “fierce confrontation”.

Filing the case with the ICJ, Iran has set the goal of calling upon the top UN tribunal’s judges to ask Washington to immediately lift its sanctions against Tehran. The lawyer representing Iran said that the US had publicly disseminated a policy aimed at producing the most serious damage to Iran’s economy and its companies, thus undoubtedly affecting Iranian citizens. Tehran asserted that the US’s resumption of sanctions, which had been removed under a nuclear agreement called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), breach the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights signed between the two sides in 1955. Citing that many European countries support Iran’s position and have criticised the new US sanctions against Tehran, Iran expressed suspicion of the legitimacy of these measures.

In reply, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reaffirmed the US’s resolve to fight against Iran in this new battle, while accusing Iran’s filing of the case with the ICJ of interfering with the sovereign rights of the US to take lawful actions, including the reimposition of sanctions, which are necessary to protect its national security. US State Department Legal Adviser Jennifer Newstead, who heads a group of lawyers representing the US, asserted that Iran’s requests are beyond the adjustment scope of the 1995 treaty and that the ICJ has no jurisdiction in this case.

The ICJ was established by the United Nations (UN) in 1946, with the aim of resolving disputes between nations. Its rulings are binding, but it has no power to enforce them. For decades since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, both the US and Iran have ignored the ICJ’s decisions. Iran neglected a US lawsuit filed with the ICJ in 1980 concerning Tehran’s arrest of US diplomats, which was ruled to be illegal by the court. In another case, the ICJ ruled that the 1995 treaty was still in force although the document had been signed before the Islamic Revolution. However, in 2003, the court ruled that US actions against Iran’s oil bases as well as Iran’s attacks aimed at US vessels did not violate the treaty.

A general view shows the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands August 27, 2018. (Reuters)

Despite a series of warnings on the implications of the withdrawal from the JCPOA, as well as the fact that there is no credible evidence for anti-Iranian allegations, the White House officially announced its withdrawal from the deal last May. Then, US President Donald Trump re-imposed a string of strict unilateral sanctions against Iran. Washington’s moves have had negative impacts on the Iranian economy, as Iran’s domestic currency lost half of its value and a number of international groups were forced to cease their operations in Iran. With the second US sanctions package aimed at the energy sector, to come into effect in early November, Iran’s economy will inevitably be shaken as its main source of revenue from “black gold” is tightened.

The US’s confrontational moves have not only had a direct impact on the Iranian economy, but have also put Iranian President Hassan Rouhani under domestic pressure, as he faces the congressmen’s questions on how to resolve such a difficult economic situation at present. President Rouhani stated that, as serious as the economic issues might be, the risk of many people losing faith in Iran’s future and doubting the power of the Islamic nation is even more dangerous. The issues arising from the protests in January, as many Iranians showed their anger over rising prices, were one of the reasons why Iran sued the US for breaching the 1995 treaty.

Despite hearing litigation for only four days, the ICJ is expected to take months to decide whether to issue a ruling over Tehran’s requests or not. Meanwhile, a final verdict on the case may take up to several years to be delivered. The tough policies and perspectives that the US and Iran have retaliated against each other are predicted to trigger a long and complex legal battle. In fact, this is just one of the moves that demonstrate the intolerance between the two nations that have a history of confrontation.