The United Nations’ top court will announce on Wednesday whether it can rule on Iran’s bid to overturn US sanctions reimposed by the administration of former President Donald Trump.
Tehran brought a case against the US to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2018, saying Washington breached a 1955 friendship treaty between the two countries.
Trump reimposed sanctions after pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and world powers to the dismay of European allies.
Iran said the sanctions caused “hardship and suffering” and was “ruining millions of lives”.
The US says the Hague-based ICJ does not have jurisdiction and must throw out the case. It also argues the sanctions were necessary because Iran posed a “grave threat” to international security.
The ICJ was set up by the UN after World War II to rule in disputes between member states. If the court allows the case to go ahead, a final judgement could still be months or even years away.
The 2015 nuclear deal saw Tehran limit its nuclear programme and allow international inspections in return for an end to years of devastating sanctions by the West.
After Trump pulled out, Iran invoked the 1955 Treaty of Amity, which predates the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the pro-American shah and severed ties with the US.
Washington formally ended the Treaty of Amity in late 2018 after the ICJ ordered it to ease sanctions on humanitarian goods as an emergency measure while the overall lawsuit is dealt with.
The 2015 nuclear deal involving Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US, plus Germany – has hung by a thread since Trump pulled out.
US President Joe Biden has voiced support for returning to the accord but has insisted Tehran first resume full compliance by reversing measures it took to protest the sweeping sanctions imposed by his predecessor.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday ruled out changes to Iran’s nuclear accord with world powers and dismissed calls to broaden the terms of the deal and include regional countries.
Iran’s regional arch rival, Saudi Arabia, has also called for a role in any future talks on the agreement.
“No clause of the JCPOA will change. Know this. And no one will be added to the JCPOA,” Rouhani said at a televised cabinet meeting, using the deal’s official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“This is the agreement. If they want it, everyone come into compliance. If they don’t, they can go live their lives,” said Rouhani.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday asked the European Union to coordinate a synchronised return by both Washington and Tehran.
Zarif told CNN that EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell should play a role in his position of coordinator of the 2015 agreement, adding the “United States needs to come back into compliance and Iran will be ready immediately to respond”.
It was the first time Zarif hinted Iran might relent in its demand the US ease economic sanctions before Tehran would resume compliance – the Biden administration has insisted Iran return to compliance first.
The US State Department reacted coolly on Tuesday to the Iranian proposal.
“We haven’t … had any discussions with the Iranians, and I wouldn’t expect we would until those initial steps go forward,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, referring to the Biden administration’s consultations with allies, partners and the US Congress.
“There are [many] steps in that process … before we’re reaching the point where we are going to engage directly with the Iranians and willing to entertain any sort of proposal,” he added.
Another US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Price’s comments should not be taken as a rebuff of Zarif’s idea, but rather as a reflection of the fact that Biden’s Iran team is just settling in and has committed to consult widely.
The Biden administration argues that Trump’s actions backfired badly, with Iran both moving away from the nuclear deal and intensifying its opposition to US interests.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned Iran could now produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon within “a few months”.