Iran has brought proceedings (link here) against the USA in the International Court of Justice challenging the legality of Executive Order 13599, which freezes the US-held assets of the Iranian government and Iranian financial institutions. The claim alleges that the sanctions breach the US-Iran Treaty of Amity 1955 by interfering with the freedom of commerce that it guarantees. The Treaty contains the qualification that it “shall not preclude the application of measures…necessary to protect essential security interests”. Executive Order 13599 was issued by President Obama on the basis of a national emergency. The US may also challenge the jurisdiction of the ICJ to adjudicate on the case.
This follows the US Supreme Court judgment in Bank Markazi v Peterson in April that certain frozen assets belonging to Bank Markazi, the Central Bank of Iran, must be used to compensate US victims of terrorist attacks. Iran had said Congress had undermined the separation of powers by legislating for the Bank’s assets to be used in this way, while Iran was still arguing in the courts as to whether and how it would pay any compensation to victims of terrorism. The Court disagreed, saying that Congress “may amend the law and make the change applicable to pending cases, even when the amendment is outcome determinative”.