Iran right to take US to court

The escalating spat between Iran and the United States over the former’s alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapons programme has shifted to a new arena: the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague. Iran has sued the US for violating the Treaty of Amity and Economic Co-operation that the two countries signed in 1955. The Donald Trump administration has withdrawn the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal, that was reached between Iran and the US, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, France and Germany. The agreement provided for a lifting of sanctions on Iran in return for Tehran limiting its nuclear activities and allowing UN weapons inspectors to return to the country. It was an important milestone as it pulled the US and Iran away from the brink of war. Following Trump’s provocative announcement in May, Washington re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Although several countries, including the US’ European allies did not join hands with Trump with regard to re-imposing sanctions on Tehran, Iran’s economic situation has been deteriorating over the past several months. In its lawsuit, Iran has accused the US of “naked economic aggression” and called on the ICJ to order the US to lift the sanctions, which are damaging its already weak economy. The US has argued that the ICJ should not have jurisdiction in the dispute and that Iran’s contentions fall outside the purview of the 1955 treaty. The ICJ has said that the dispute does fall under its jurisdiction.

Iran has done well to go to the ICJ for several reasons. It has a strong case. Importantly, it has taken a legal and non-violent path to resolving the dispute. If the ICJ rules in Iran’s favour, it will be a moral victory for Iran’s position. However, in substantial terms, it may not resolve the matter as the US is unlikely to heed the ICJ’s verdict if it goes against Washington. The US has ignored ICJ rulings in the past. Although ICJ rulings are binding, the court does not have the power to enforce it.

Trump’s bullying and confrontationist foreign policy is provoking war in a region that is already in flames. His cheerleaders in Saudi Arabia are just waiting for a spark. A cornered Tehran could well provide that spark by shutting down the strategic Strait of Hormuz, as it has threatened to. There will be no winners if war breaks out. The US must back off and withdraw sanctions, rather than intensify them as it plans to do in November. The right and productive thing to do is to return to the Iran nuclear deal and to start talks with Tehran to address Washington’s remaining concerns.  

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