The Islamic Republic of Iran is suing the US at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the US sanctions annouced on May 8, 2018. ICJ is the forum for the resolution of disputes among members of the Untied Nations.
Iran is claiming that the sanctions of May 8, 2018, violate the Treaty of Amity entered into by the two countries in 1955. The court application of Iran is unclearly drafted but it seems that Iran is seeking an injunction to prevent the further application of sanctions, as well as a declaration that the sanctions are illegal, and damages for the harm allegedly caused by the sanctions to Iranian foreign nationals. What Iran appears to want more immediately, is the ability to continue to acquire aircraft parts from the US and EU.
It may be an uphill battle for Iran to argue its case on the basis of the Treaty of Amity because it is inconsistent with its conduct. The Treaty covers, among other things, the protection of diplomatic relations and diplomats, as well as financial and commercial activities. The Iranian hostage crisis demonstrated that Iran had no intention of adhering to the Treaty. During the Iranian hostage crisis, 50 American diplomats, who were protected by the Treaty of Amity, were kidnapped from the US Embassy in Tehran, held hostage and some were severely mis-treated for 444 days. The US Embassy is Tehran is also protected by the Treaty of Amity. Despite that, it is occupied by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The Iranian judiciary does not appear to acknowledge or abide by the Treaty of Amity either – for example, in this case, they ruled that foreign nationals do not have the same rights as Iranians in commercial matters in Iran – a ruling which is inconsistent with the terms of the Treaty of Amity.
Even if the Treaty of Amity is held to be in force, its terms specifically allow the US to take all steps to maintain or restore peace and security and to protect international security. The imposition of sanctions against Iran was pursuant to executive power to preserve the international financial system for international security purposes.
And moreover, sanctions required to protect against the movement of proceeds of terrorist financing that may originate from Iran and are routinely moved through Dubai, are authorized by legalization from the United Nations and supersede the Treaty of Amity, even if it is in force.
And finally, if Iran has a dispute with the US in respect of sanctions pursuant to the JCPOA, it must use the dispute resolution mechanism in that agreement to resolve them.