Four questions on Iran’s legal challenge to US sanctions

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani answers a question during a press conference in New York on September 20, 2017, on the sideline of the 72nd Session of the United Nations General assembly. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 27 August 2018
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Four questions on Iran’s legal challenge to US sanctions

  • Iran’s legal challenge against renewed sanctions by the United States goes before the UN’s International Court of Justice
  • Iran’s attempt to block the reinstatement of sanctions is the latest in a series of court battles that Tehran and Washington are fighting at the ICJ

Iran’s legal challenge against renewed sanctions by the United States goes before the UN’s International Court of Justice on Monday.
Here are four key questions regarding the case:

Iran’s attempt to block the reinstatement of sanctions, announced by US President Donald Trump earlier this year, is the latest in a series of court battles that Tehran and Washington are fighting at the ICJ.
Trump announced on May 8 that he was pulling out of a landmark deal between Iran and major powers aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The deal agreed with the UN’s five permanent Security Council members and Germany in 2015 limits Tehran’s stockpile of enriched uranium until 2031 in exchange for sanctions relief.
Blasting the accord as a “horrible, one-sided deal,” Trump reimposed a wave of tough, unilateral sanctions.
Tehran now accuses Washington of “besieging” its economy and wants the Hague-based court — which rules in disputes between countries — to order the US to temporarily halt punitive measures, while the judges mull the deeper merits of the case.

The case has two elements, said Eric De Brabandere, professor of international dispute settlement at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
Firstly, “Iran genuinely considers the re-imposition of sanctions a violation of international law.”
Secondly, “Iran has the support of many European states on the question of sanctions, politically speaking,” De Brabandere argued.
Iran’s representatives need to convince the ICJ that its 15 permanent judges indeed have the jurisdiction to hear the case.
Tehran bases its arguments on a little-known 1955 treaty between Iran and the United States. The treaty provides for “friendly relations” between the two countries, encourages mutual trade and investment and regulates consular relations.
However, there have been no formal diplomatic ties between Tehran and Washington since the regime of the US-backed Shah was deposed by Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979.

“My guess is that for this case they will argue that the court has no jurisdiction, as they did in a separate case launched against the US two years ago,” said De Brabandere.
Washington could invoke two arguments.
One is that the 1955 treaty is no longer in force, because it is a “treaty of friendship” between two nations which have been adversaries for the last four decades.
Secondly, US representatives could say that the dispute was “not about the treaty, but about sanctions and Iran’s alleged terrorist activities,” De Brabandere said.
“The US is likely to argue that the dispute is about something much broader than a treaty,” for instance Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the expert said.
Furthermore, there is a clause in the 1955 treaty which allows the states to take “any measures to protect essential security interests.”

“I think it’s very likely that the ICJ will, based on the 1955 treaty, decide to hear the case,” said De Brabandere.
However, whether the case will be successful on its own merits — in other words whether the United States indeed breached its obligations — is more difficult to establish.
“For one, the 1955 treaty is relatively narrow in scope. It means that the ICJ can only rule whether the US violated its obligations under the specific treaty,” De Brabandere said.
This means that the ICJ’s judges will not rule in what they may consider any broader dispute between Iran and the United States.
The outcome of the case — which could still take years before being handed down — “is very difficult to predict,” said De Brabandere.


Libya reopens Tripoli’s only functioning airport

Updated 1 min 43 sec ago
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Libya reopens Tripoli’s only functioning airport

  • Mitiga airport was closed earlier in the day when residents reported an air strike on the Libyan capital
  • Mitiga airport offers air links to a city of an estimated 2.5 million residents

TRIPOLI: Libya has reopened Tripoli’s only functioning airport, aviation authorities said on a post on social media on Sunday.

Mitiga airport was closed earlier in the day when residents reported an air strike on the Libyan capital, but a later Facebook post noted the arrival of an African Airlines aircraft from Istanbul.

A Reuters reporter and several residents said they saw an aircraft circling for more than 10 minutes over the capital late on Saturday, and that it made a humming sound before opening fire on several areas.

An aircraft was heard again after midnight, circling for more than ten minutes before a heavy explosion shook the ground.

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It was not clear whether an aircraft or unmanned drone was behind the strike, which triggered heavy anti-aircraft fire. Residents had reported drone strikes in recent days, but there has been no confirmation and explosions heard in the city center this time were louder than in previous days.

Residents counted several missile strikes, one of which apparently hit a military camp of forces loyal to Tripoli in the Sabaa district in the south of the capital, scene of the heaviest fighting between the rival forces.

Authorities earlier closed Tripoli’s only functioning airport, cutting air links to a city of an estimated 2.5 million residents. The airport in Misrata, a city 200 km to the east, remained open.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) force loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar started an offensive two weeks ago but has been unable to breach the government’s southern defenses.

If a drone strike was confirmed this would point to more sophisticated warfare. The LNA has so far mainly used aging Soviet-made jets from the air force of Muammar Qaddafi, toppled in 2011, lacking precision firepower and helicopters, according to residents and military sources.

The violence spiked after the White House said on Friday that US President Donald Trump spoke by telephone with Haftar earlier in the week.

The disclosure of the call and a US statement that it “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources” has boosted the commander’s supporters and enraged his opponents.

Western powers have been divided over a push by Haftar’s forces to seize Tripoli, undermining calls by the United Nations for a cease-fire.

Both sides claimed progress in southern Tripoli on Saturday, but no more details were immediately available.

A Reuters TV cameraman visiting the southern Khalat Furgan suburb heard heavy shelling but saw no apparent change in the frontline.

On Friday, two children were killed in shelling in southern Tripoli, residents said. The fighting has killed 227 people and wounded 1,128, the World Health organization said before the air strikes.

On Thursday, both the United States and Russia said they could not support a UN Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Libya at this time.

Russia objects to the British-drafted resolution blaming Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence when his LNA advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli earlier this month, diplomats said.

The United States did not give a reason for its decision not to support the draft resolution, which would also call on countries with influence over the warring parties to ensure compliance and for unconditional humanitarian aid access in Libya.