Iran takes U.S. to court over violating Iran deal

While fighting to save the nuclear deal, Iran is also preparing for what's to come if the JCPOA falls apart.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif  ahead of a ministerial meeting on Iran's nuclear programe in Vienna. CREDIT: Alexander Shcherbak/TASS/Getty Images.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif ahead of a ministerial meeting on Iran's nuclear programe in Vienna. CREDIT: Alexander Shcherbak/TASS/Getty Images.

Iran has resorted to one of the few legal mechanisms at its disposal to call the United States to the mat: It filed a lawsuit before the International Court of Justice, alleging President Donald Trump’s May decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal and impose sanctions is a violation of a 1955 treaty between the two countries.

Reuters reported Wednesday that the U.S. State Department finds the complaint without merit, telling the wire service that “Iran’s application is baseless.”

In a tweet, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote:

In its claim, Iran cites several provisions of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights, including Article IV, the first part of which holds that:

“Each High Contracting Party shall at all times accord fair and equitable treatment to nationals and companies of the other High Contracting Party, and to their property and enterprises; shall refrain from applying unreasonable or discriminatory measures that would impair their legally acquired rights and interests; and shall assure that their lawful contractual rights are afforded effective means of enforcement, in conformity with the applicable laws.

As a post on Lawfare points out, “The ICJ accepted jurisdiction based on this provision once before…It may well do so again.”


The 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCOPA) called for Iran to limit the scope of its nuclear energy program (the country has never had nuclear weapons) in exchange for sanctions relief.

Signed by Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany, the agreement was monitored by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, which consistently reported that Iran has obeyed the terms of the deal.

Still, President Trump insisted that the JCPOA was the “worst deal ever” and, in May, pulled out, a move that, while a violation of the agreement, was legal under U.S. law because the JCPOA is not a treaty — meaning the president did not need congressional approval to pull out.

Still, leaving the JCPOA seems to counter the emphasis that the president (at times, anyway) seems to place on nuclear non-proliferation. This was among the key topics he reportedly discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday, where Putin emphasized the value of the JCPOA.

“We also mentioned our concern about the withdrawal of the United States from the JCPOA. Well, the U.S. — our U.S. counterparts are aware of our posture,” said Putin.


“Let me remind you that thanks to the Iranian nuclear deal, Iran became the most controlled country in the world. It submitted to the control of IAEA. It effectively ensured the exclusively peaceful nature of Iranian nuclear program and strengthened the nonproliferation regime,” he added.

The other signatories to the deal want to keep the JCPOA alive, but with the U.S. reimposing sanctions and threatening its allies with sanctions if they continue to deal with Iran, things are looking shaky.

Still, over the weekend, as the third anniversary of the deal passed, the European Union — which President Trump recently categorized as a “foe” on trade — asked the United States for sanctions exemptions so that it could remain in compliance with the terms of the JCPOA.

That plea was rejected on Monday, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin responded that sanctions waivers would only be granted in the cases where national security or humanitarian issues were at stake.

Meanwhile, Iran appears to be preparing itself for the worst: Reuters reported on Wednesday that the country has built a factory to produce rotors for as many as 60 centrifuges each day.

Although the country has not moved to increase its enrichment activities at this point, this is a clear indication that it is willing to pursue that option, although it maintains that its program is only for energy and non-weapons research projects.


As the Trump administration stokes discontent, hoping Iran’s government will implode, the country is also bracing for what the return of sanctions could mean to not only its economy, but to its health care system (which was hit hard at the height of the sanctions prior to the 2015 deal):

Facing protests against President Hassan Rouhani’s failure to deliver on economic promises (made all the more difficult by U.S. sanctions), the government is also struggling to keep the lights on.

Soaring demands for electricity, coupled with a brutal drought and an ailing electrical grid, have resulted in blackouts around the country, including the capital of Tehran.