UN’s highest courtroom to listen to Iran sanctions case in opposition to US

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Feb 3, 2021

The United Nations’ prime courtroom dominated Wednesday that it has the jurisdiction to contemplate a case introduced by Iran difficult sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. 

A majority of the 16-judge panel rejected US objections to the three-year case, which seeks the overturn of crippling financial sanctions. International Court of Justice presiding decide Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf stated Wednesday that the Hague-based courtroom “finds consequently that it has jurisdiction … to entertain the application filed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.” 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif praised the ruling as “another legal victory for Iran.”

“Iran has always fully respected int’l law. High time for the US to live up to its int’l obligations,” Zarif tweeted Wednesday. 

It could take years for the world court to render a final judgment on the case, and even then, its rulings aren’t enforceable. 

The case dates to July 2018, when Iran sued the United States after President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the landmark nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Tehran argued the crushing US sanctions violated the Treaty of Amity signed by the two countries in 1955. 

Lawyers for the United States described the Iranian lawsuit as “baseless” and argued that the international court lacked jurisdiction because the 1955 treaty was signed prior to Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But in a preliminary ruling in October 2018, the UN court unanimously agreed that the United States should lift sanctions impacting the delivering of goods related to food, medicine, aviation and humanitarian services to Iran. 

The Trump administration responded by withdrawing the United States from the friendship treaty, accusing the Iranians of long ignoring it. 

The court’s decision comes as President Joe Biden seeks to revive diplomacy with Iran. If Tehran returns to full compliance under the deal, Biden has pledged to lift sanctions and rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations over a “longer and stronger” deal. 

Iran in 2018 began violating its terms of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which placed restrictions on the quality and quantity of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium. Last month, Iran said it was enriching uranium at 20% purity at its Fordow plant in breach of the pact’s 3.67% limit. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said recently that Iran’s breakout time —  the time it would take to produce the amount of fissile material needed for a single nuclear weapon — has been reduced to a few months. Blinken warned that could drop to “a matter of weeks” if Iran continues lifting nuclear restraints.

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