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US ‘disappointed’ as UN court takes up Iran’s case against sanctions

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks during a news briefing at the State Department in Washington on February 3, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

The new US administration says it is “disappointed” after the UN’s highest court rules that it can hear a case brought by Iran against illegal American sanctions, despite President Joe Biden’s criticism of his predecessor for reinstating the bans on the Islamic Republic after leaving a 2015 nuclear deal.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — also known as the World Court — rejected the arguments made by Washington that the lawsuit was outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal.

Tehran had filed the case with the ICJ in 2018 after then US president Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reinstated anti-Iran sanctions.

The lawsuit said the US sanctions against Iran violate the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights between the two countries, causing “hardship and suffering” and “ruining millions of lives.”

The US argued that the case should be thrown out by the ICJ for lack of jurisdiction and admissibility.

The Hague-based court, however, said the terms of the 1955 treaty provided a basis for the case to proceed in the international body.

Reacting to the ruling, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “We have great respect for the International Court of Justice. At the same time, we are disappointed that the court did not accept our well-founded legal arguments, that the case Iran brought is outside the court's jurisdiction, and the court should not hear it.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif hailed the court’s decision as “another legal victory for Iran.”

The ICJ had ordered the US in October 2018 to ease the sanctions on humanitarian goods as an emergency measure while the overall lawsuit is dealt with.

But Price alleged that Wednesday’s ruling is not a decision on the merits.

“While Iran may seek to frame this decision as somehow supporting its view on the merits, the ICJ's rules and case law make plain that a decision on preliminary objections does not prejudge the merits. In the next phase of this case we'll explain why Iran's claim has no merits,” he claimed.

The fate of the JCPOA is now hanging in the balance after the European co-signatories — France, Britain and Germany — failed to counter the US sanctions, prompting Iran to scale back parts of its commitments in retaliation.

Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has pledged to rejoin the multilateral accord if the Islamic Republic returns to compliance.

Tehran, however, says it is Washington that should take the first step by lifting the sanctions and then Iran will return to its commitments enshrined in the nuclear pact.

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