ICJ to rule on Iran bid to halt US nuclear sanctions

Iran’s governor to IAEA Kazem Gharib Abadi at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria. (AFP pic)

THE HAGUE: The UN’s top court will rule Wednesday on Iran’s bid to suspend crippling US sanctions reimposed by President Donald Trump after he pulled out of the international nuclear deal with Tehran.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will hand down its decision at 0800 GMT in a case which threatens to plunge relations between Washington and Tehran to a new low.

Tehran dragged Washington to the International Court of Justice in July, saying the United States had breached a 1955 “friendship treaty” that predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

Trump slapped a first round of sanctions on Iran in August after pulling out in May of a historic deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. A second round of punitive measures is due in November.

Iran called on the ICJ judges to order the immediate suspension of Trump’s unilateral move to reimpose economic sanctions, a move that also alarmed Washington’s EU allies.

During four days of hearings in late August, Iran’s lawyers accused Washington of “strangling” its economy and its representative called the punitive measures “naked economic aggression”.

Washington however forcefully told the court — which rules on disputes between United Nations member states — that it has no jurisdiction to rule on this case as it concerns a matter of national security.

Rulings by the ICJ are binding and cannot be appealed, but it has no way to enforce its decisions.

Wednesday’s ruling is in fact a decision on so-called provisional measures ahead of a final decision on the matter, which may take several more years, experts said.

However “if the court orders measures, they should be respected,” Eric De Brabandere, a professor of international law at the University of Leiden, told AFP.

If the court decides it has jurisdiction, it will likely “declare that the parties should refrain from aggravating the dispute”, but any steps beyond this remain to be seen, he said.

The 2015 nuclear deal saw Iran agree to limit its nuclear programme and let in international inspectors in return for an end to years of sanctions by the West.

But Trump pulled out of the deal in May, arguing that funds from the lifting of sanctions under the pact had been used to support terrorism and build nuclear-capable missiles.

Relations have plunged to a new low since Trump’s election in 2016, even as the US president reaches out to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over his nuclear programme.

Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani faced off at the UN in September, with Rouhani denouncing leaders with “xenophobic tendencies resembling a Nazi disposition”.

Despite their 1955 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic ties since 1980.

The case is the second brought by Tehran against Washington since 2016. That year it brought a suit at the ICJ against the freezing of around US$2 billion (RM8.3 billion) of Iranian assets abroad which US courts say should go to American victims of terror attacks.

Hearings in that case are due to start next week.