Iran on Monday demanded the UN's top court suspend US nuclear-linked sanctions against Tehran, accusing Washington of plotting Iran’s “economic strangulation.”
The Islamic Republic launched a suit at the International Court of Justice in The Hague over US President Donald Trump's decision to reimpose the sanctions that had been lifted in a 2015 accord.
Iran says Trump’s move breaches a 1955 Treaty of Amity. It told the court the measures were already devastating its economy and threatening the welfare of its citizens.
“The US is publicly propagating a policy intended to damage as severely as possible Iran’s economy and Iranian national companies, and therefore inevitably Iranian nationals,” said Mohsen Mohebbi, representing Iran, at the start of four days of hearings.
“This policy is nothing but naked economic aggression against my country,” he added.
“Iran will put up the strongest resistance to the US economic strangulation by all peaceful means.”
He said Iran had sought a diplomatic solution to the countries’ dispute but was rejected.
Sanctions had been lifted under a 2015 multilateral agreement in return for Iran committing to curb its nuclear program. But Trump restored unilateral sanctions three weeks ago.
The 2015 deal was signed by Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Trump, who took office on January 20, 2017, called it a “horrible one-sided deal.”
To the horror of the other signatories, Trump pulled out and announced on May 8 this year that he would reinstate sanctions.
A second wave of punitive measures are due to hit Iran in early November, targeting its vital energy sector including oil exports.
The United States’ rejection of the nuclear deal is not backed by its key European allies.
Mohebbi said the reimposition of sanctions was unjustified as Iran was abiding by the terms of the nuclear deal.
Iran filed its case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in late July, calling on The Hague-based tribunal’s judges to order the immediate lifting of sanctions pending a definitive ruling.
It said the sanctions would cause Iran “irreparable prejudice.” It argues that they breach the 1955 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations between Iran and the United States.
British lawyer Samuel Wordsworth, for Iran, told the court the sanctions were threatening Iranians’ access to medicines as well as disrupting business deals.
Jean-Marc Thouvenin, law professor at University of Paris, Nanterre, added: “It is urgent that the court indicate provisional measures that safeguard Iran because the purpose (of sanctions) is to strangle the Iranian economy within a few months.”
Tehran says that the new sanctions are already hurting its economy. Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost around half its value since April.
In a court filing at the ICJ, Iran’s lawyers said the US sanctions threaten tens of billions of dollars’ worth of business deals with foreign companies.
International companies including France’s Total, Peugeot and Renault, and Germany’s Siemens and Daimler, have suspended operations in Iran since Trump announced the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal in May.
Air France and British Airways announced Thursday they would halt flights to Tehran next month, saying they were not commercially viable.
Trump said the sanctions would turn up the financial pressure on Tehran to come to a “comprehensive and lasting solution” regarding its activities such as its “ballistic missile program.”
Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei this month appeared to rule out any immediate prospect of talks, saying, “There will be neither war nor negotiations,” with the US.
At the start of Monday’s hearing, the court’s president, Abdulqawi Yusuf, leading a 15-judge panel, urged the United States to adhere to any provisional decision the court may make.
US lawyers will present their case on Tuesday, with a second round of arguments on Wednesday and Thursday. Experts expect the US to challenge the ICJ’s jurisdiction.
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 $2 billion of Iranian assets abroad which US courts say should go to American victims of terror attacks.
The ICJ is expected to take a couple of months to decide whether to grant Tehran’s request for a provisional ruling. A final decision in the case may take years. The ICJ was set up in 1946 to rule in disputes between countries.
Rulings by the world court, which settles disputes between nations, are final and legally binding, but the ICJ has no power to enforce them.
AFP, AP and Reuters contributed to this story.