THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Iran went to the United Nations' highest court Monday in a bid to have U.S. sanctions lifted following President Donald Trump's decision earlier this year to re-impose them, calling the move "naked economic aggression."
Iran filed the case with the International Court of Justice in July, claiming that sanctions the Trump administration imposed on May 8 breach a 1955 bilateral agreement known as the Treaty of Amity that regulates economic and consular ties between the two countries.
At hearings that started Monday at the court's headquarters in The Hague, Tehran asked judges at the world court to urgently suspend the sanctions to protect Iranian interests while the case challenging their legality is being heard — a process that can take years.
In a written statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the legal move an attempt by Tehran "to interfere with the sovereign rights of the United States to take lawful actions, including re-imposition of sanctions, which are necessary to protect our national security."
Trump said in May that he would pull the United States out of a 2015 agreement over Iran's nuclear program and would re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Washington also threatened other countries with sanctions if they don't cut off Iranian oil imports by early November.
Iranian representative Mohsen Mohebi told the court the U.S. decision was a clear breach of the 1955 treaty as it was "intended to damage, as severely as possible, Iran's economy."
Iran's 2015 nuclear deal imposed restrictions on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program in return for the lifting of most U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran.
However, the deal came with time limits and did not address Iran's ballistic missile program or its regional policies in Syria and elsewhere. Trump has repeatedly pointed to those omissions in referring to the accord as the "worst deal ever."
Mohebi said the re-imposition of sanctions was unjustified as Iran was abiding by the terms of the 2015 deal. He said sanctions are already having damaging effects on Iran's economy and society and threaten to further destabilize the volatile Mideast.
"This policy is nothing but a naked economic aggression against my country," Mohebi told the court.
The United States, which argues that the court does not have jurisdiction in the case, is to present its legal arguments to judges on Tuesday.
Pompeo said lawyers would "vigorously defend" the U.S. and "and we will continue to work with our allies to counter the Iranian regime's destabilizing activities in the region, block their financing of terror, and address Iran's proliferation of ballistic missiles and other advanced weapons systems that threaten international peace and stability. We will also ensure Iran has no path to a nuclear weapon - not now, not ever."
The United States rejection of the nuclear deal is not backed by some key allies. Last week, the European Union announced its first financial support package to help bolster Iran's flagging economy, part of the bloc's commitment to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive.
Iran and the U.S. have a history of litigation at the International Court of Justice, in cases covering crises including the Tehran embassy hostage-taking and the shooting down of an Iranian passenger jet mistaken by a U.S. warship for a fighter jet.
The 1955 treaty was signed when the U.S. and Iran were still allies following the 1953 revolution — fomented by Britain and the U.S. — that ultimately cemented the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. However diplomatic relations were severed following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and takeover of the U.S. embassy and ensuing hostage crisis. Despite the dramatic deterioration in relations, the treaty remains in force.
Rulings by the world court, which settles disputes between nations, are final and legally binding.