US Defends Sanctions Against Iran at Top UN Court

The International Court of Justice begins hearing a sanctions dispute between the U.S. and Iran on Monday. (UN Photo/ICJ-CIJ/Frank van Beek)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — The United States argued before the United Nations’ highest court Monday that a 1955 treaty with Iran doesn’t prevent the Trump administration from reimposing sanctions on the Middle Eastern country. 

The International Court of Justice, or ICJ, continued to hold hearings in a virtual/in-person hybrid model on Monday when it heard opening statements from the U.S. in a dispute over the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal.

“The subject matter does not fall within the Treaty of Amity,” Marik String, acting legal adviser for the State Department, told the court via video link.

The American legal team spent the hearing arguing that sanctions against Iran, ostensibly for supporting terrorism and destabilizing the region, were beyond the scope of the 1955 treaty. 

“This case is an attempt to do an end-run around the JCPOA,” Sir Daniel Bethlehem of Twenty Essex told the court on behalf of the U.S., referring to the nuclear deal reached under former President Barack Obama.  

Marik String, acting legal adviser for the U.S. State Department, addresses the International Court of Justice via video link on Monday. (UN Photo/ICJ-CIJ/Frank van Beek)

In May 2018, the Trump administration abruptly pulled out of the 2015 deal and reinstated economic sanctions. Iran filed a complaint with the ICJ two months later, arguing reimposing sanctions violated the 1955 Treaty of Amity, a little-known agreement that was one of many the U.S. signed following World War II to counter the Soviet Union. 

Representatives from the U.S. spent much of Monday afternoon arguing that the sanctions targeted third parties, specifically companies that do business with Iran, and therefore are not covered by the treaty.

“There is no bilateral nexus between Iran and the United States,” said Kimberly Gahan, assistant legal adviser for the State Department.  

In October 2018, the ICJ granted Iran’s request for provisional measures and ordered the U.S. to lift sanctions on humanitarian goods, such as measures affecting medicine and food.

The same day, the U.S. announced it would terminate its participation in the Treaty of Amity. At the time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said leaving the treaty was “39 years overdue,” referring to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and subsequent hostage crisis, when 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days after the U.S. embassy was overrun. 

The two nations have another case before the ICJ, brought under the same treaty. Iran claims the U.S. violated parts of the treaty by seizing Iranian assets held by Bank Markazi and other state-owned companies to compensate victims of the 1983 bombing in Beirut, Lebanon, and other attacks linked to Iran.

Hearings in the sanctions dispute will continue Wednesday. 

Many other participants in the nuclear deal, including the European Union, have kept up their side of the bargain, despite the U.S. withdrawal, and have not reimposed sanctions on Iran.  

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