Iran Sues United States Over Sanctions

July 18, 2018

On July 16, Iran filed a lawsuit against the United States at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the reimposition of U.S. sanctions. Iran alleged that the United States violated a treaty signed in 1955, more than two decades before the Islamic Revolution and the subsequent souring of relations between the two countries.


“While we cannot comment on the specifics, Iran’s application is baseless and we intend to vigorously defend the United States before the ICJ,” a State Department official told Reuters. The ICJ, based in The Hague, is the U.N. tribunal for resolving international disputes. The filing asks the ICJ to order the United States to terminate the sanctions imposed on May 8, 2018 “without delay” and to compensate Iran “for the violation of its international legal obligations.” 

In 2016, Iran filed a case against the United States at the ICJ. It claimed that U.S. use of seized Iranian assets to compensate victims of terrorism violated the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Relations. Both countries submitted preliminary objections and memorials. The first round of oral arguments in the case will be presented before the court in October 2018.

The following are excerpts from the ICJ press release on the latest proceedings related to sanctions. Hearings have been scheduled from August 27 to August 30.  


Iran institutes proceedings against the United States with regard to a dispute concerning alleged violations of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights between Iran and the United States, and requests the Court to indicate provisional measures

THE HAGUE, 17 July 2018. The Islamic Republic of Iran yesterday instituted proceedings against the United States of America before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, with regard to a dispute concerning alleged violations of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights between Iran and the United States, which was signed in Teheran on 15 August 1955 and entered into force on 16 June 1957 (“the 1955 Treaty”).

Iran maintains that its Application relates to the decision of the United States of 8 May 2018 “to re-impose in full effect and enforce” sanctions and restrictive measures targeting, directly or indirectly, Iran and Iranian companies and/or nationals, which the United States had previously decided to lift in connection with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action ¾ an agreement on the nuclear programme of Iran reached on 14 July 2015 by Iran, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany and the European Union.

The Applicant claims that, through the “8 May sanctions” and further sanctions that have been announced, the United States “has violated and continues to violate multiple provisions” of the 1955 Treaty.

Iran therefore

“respectfully requests the Court to adjudge, order and declare that:

a. The USA, through the 8 May and announced further sanctions referred to in the present Application, with respect to Iran, Iranian nationals and companies, has breached its obligations to Iran under Articles IV (1), VII (1), VIII (1), VIII (2), IX (2) and X (1) of the [1955 Treaty];

b. The USA shall, by means of its own choosing, terminate the 8 May sanctions without delay;

c. The USA shall immediately terminate its threats with respect to the announced further sanctions referred to in the present Application; - 2 –

d. The USA shall ensure that no steps shall be taken to circumvent the decision to be given by the Court in the present case and will give a guarantee of non-repetition of its violations of the [1955 Treaty];

e. The USA shall fully compensate Iran for the violation of its international legal obligations in an amount to be determined by the Court at a subsequent stage of the proceedings. Iran reserves the right to submit and present to the Court in due course a precise evaluation of the compensation owed by the USA.”

As basis for the jurisdiction of the Court, the Applicant invokes Article XXI, paragraph 2, of the 1955 Treaty, which provides that

“[a]ny dispute between the High Contracting Parties as to the interpretation or application of the present Treaty, not satisfactorily adjusted by diplomacy, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice, unless the High Contracting Parties agree to settlement by some other pacific means”.

On the same day, Iran also filed a Request for the indication of provisional measures, in order to preserve its rights under the 1955 Treaty pending the judgment of the Court on the merits of the case.

According to Iran, the United States has already started to enforce some elements of the “8 May sanctions”, while it announced that others would be implemented between 90 and 180 days from 8 May 2018. The Applicant maintains that, in view of the above, there is “a real and imminent risk that irreparable prejudice” will be caused to its rights which form the subject of the dispute before the Court gives its final decision.

Consequently, Iran

“in its own right and as parens patriae of its nationals respectfully requests that, pending final judgment in this case, the Court indicate:

a. That the USA shall immediately take all measures at its disposal to ensure the suspension of the implementation and enforcement of all of the 8 May sanctions, including the extraterritorial sanctions, and refrain from imposing or threatening announced further sanctions and measures which might aggravate or extend the dispute submitted to the Court;

b. That the USA shall immediately allow the full implementation of transactions already licensed, generally or specifically, particularly for the sale or leasing of passenger aircraft, aircraft spare parts and equipment;

c. That the USA shall, within 3 months, report to the Court the action it has taken in pursuance of sub-paragraphs (a) and (b);

d. That the USA shall assure Iranian, US and non-US nationals and companies that it will comply with the Order of the Court, and shall cease any and all statements or actions that would dissuade US and non-US persons and entities from engaging or continuing to engage economically with Iran and Iranian nationals or companies;

e. That the USA shall refrain from taking any other measure that might prejudice the rights of Iran and Iranian nationals and companies under the [1955 Treaty] with respect to any decision this Court might render on the merits.”

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