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Home Archive for category "Iran"

The Trump Presidency and the Iran Nuclear Deal: Initial Thoughts

Published on November 17, 2016        Author: 

Well it’s been a dramatic and, for many of us, soul searching week since last Tuesday’s presidential election in the U.S. resulting in Donald Trump being elected the next U.S. president. I’ll hold back on political editorializing in this space. We all have our views and there are other fora in which to express them.

Among the many issues that will be affected when Trump assumes the U.S. presidency in January is of course the Iran nuclear issue. Trump famously stated on the campaign trail: “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”  I don’t actually think this is his number one priority, but nevertheless a President Trump and his foreign policy team will most definitely not be the champions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been.

Of course this all comes as a shock to most of us who work in the nuclear nonproliferation area. I genuinely thought that the JCPOA would, under a Hillary Clinton presidency, perhaps not be as positively supported by the U.S. administration as it had been, but that nevertheless the U.S. would seek to keep its commitments under the deal.  And as a side note, I also thought that this meant I probably wouldn’t be writing that much more about the JCPOA, and I welcomed that.

But now we are faced with a new reality and a lot of uncertainty about specifically how President Trump and his foreign policy team will treat the JCPOA, as well as whether Republicans in Congress will now – with Trump as president and willing to sign it into law – be successful in imposing new economic sanctions on Iran through statute.

I thought I would just offer a few initial observations and thoughts about the various questions that we now face relative to the JCPOA:

Read the rest of this entry…

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Is there a place for sovereign immunity in the fight against terrorism? The US Supreme Court says ‘no’ in Bank Markazi v. Peterson

Published on May 19, 2016        Author: 

The US Supreme Court’s judgment of 20 April 2016 in the case of Bank Markazi, aka The Central Bank of Iran, Petitioner v. Deborah Peterson, et al. highlights the increasingly isolated nature of US practice on sovereign immunity. As well as addressing issues of constitutional law, the judgment is also significant from an international law perspective; the highest jurisdiction of the US took a dangerous step toward the effective application of its terrorism exception to sovereign immunity.

The terrorism exception was introduced to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (FSIA) by an amendment made in 1996, and then further revised in 2008.  28 U.S.C. §1605A reads:

A foreign state shall not be immune from the jurisdiction of courts of the United States or of the States in any case […] in which money damages are sought against a foreign state for personal injury or death that was caused by an act of torture, extrajudicial killing, aircraft sabotage, hostage taking, or the provision of material support or resources for such an act if such act or provision of material support or resources is engaged in by an official, employee, or agent of such foreign state while acting within the scope of his or her office, employment, or agency.

The court can hear a case under this provision provided the foreign State has been designated as a State sponsoring terrorism by the Department of State and the claimant or the victim was at the time of the act a US national. This law aims at providing justice for victims through massive civil liability judgments, punishing foreign States committing or sponsoring terrorism, and discouraging them from doing so in the future.

In this post I focus not on the content of the judgment, but rather on the impact of US practice, which has recently seen all assets of the Iranian Central Bank located in the US subject to execution, on international law. Read the rest of this entry…

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Security Council Resolution 2231 and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program

Published on July 27, 2015        Author: 

Last week I did a couple of posts elsewhere on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed on July 14 between the P5+1 and Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program. See here and here. These posts may be of interest in explaining the essential agreement contained in the JCPOA, and in examining some of its key legal implications.

The JCPOA is the culmination of twenty months of negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran, since the initial Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) was agreed by the parties in November 2013. I wrote a post discussing the JPOA here at EJIL:Talk! at the time it was agreed.

I’d like to focus this post on the unanimous passage by the U.N. Security Council on July 20 of Resolution 2231, which can be found here. Resolution 2231 comprises 104 pages of text, inclusive of two annexes, one of which is the entire JCPOA text. I mention this because my primary impression in reading over Resolution 2231 and is annexes for the first time, was frankly astonishment that the parties had been able to agree on such an amazingly complex, thorough and comprehensive diplomatic accord. I was also impressed by the precision of the text of Resolution 2231 itself (apart from a couple of typos) in implementing, in what appears to be a very sophisticated and, as far as I can tell, correct way, the agreement reached by the parties on July 14.

The JCPOA itself and Resolution 2231 appear to represent a major success of international diplomacy, as well as a significant achievement of international law in facilitating the implementation of the diplomatic accord. Again, it is difficult to overstate the complexity of the issues that had to be resolved among the parties to arrive at both the JCPOA and Resolution 2231. And the specificity with which these issues were addressed in both documents – down to weights and measures and dates of implementation – is frankly astonishing, and far exceeds my expectations.  And so I compliment all of the diplomats and lawyers involved. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ECJ and (Mis)interpretation of Security Council Resolutions: The Case of Sanctions Against Iran

Published on December 23, 2013        Author: 

On 28 November 2013, the ECJ set aside the judgment of the General Court of the EU in case T‑509/10, Manufacturing Support & Procurement Kala Naft v Council, which had annulled, in so far as they concerned the applicant (an Iranian company owned by the National Iranian Oil Company), the various EU restrictive measures targeting persons and entities listed as being engaged in nuclear proliferation (including Council Decision 2010/413/CFSP). However, in my view, the ECJ was wrong in considering that the UNSC Resolution 1929 (2010) provided a basis for the challenged EU measures as the Court wrongly interpreted the SC resolution as enabling the European Council to conclude that trading in key equipment and technology for the gas and oil industry was ‘capable of being regarded as support for the nuclear activities of [Iran]’.

In its judgment, the ECJ, recalls that the effectiveness of judicial review requires that the Courts of the EU are to ensure that the decision challenged ‘is taken on a sufficiently solid factual basis’ (at para. 73), and observes that in order to assess the lawfulness of the General Court’s review of the measures, it shall examine ‘the way in which the General Court identified and interpreted the general rules of the relevant legislation’ (para. 74). The ECJ held that “there is nothing in the judgment under appeal to indicate that the General Court took into account the changes in European Union legislation after Security Council Resolution 1929 (2010) (para. 75, emphasis mine). Read the rest of this entry…

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Iran’s (Non-)Compliance with its Non-Proliferation Obligations Revisited

Published on June 22, 2013        Author: 

A recent statement issued by the EU entitled ‘Common messages regarding EU sanctions against the Iranian nuclear programme’, posted on the websites of various EU embassies in Tehran (and translated into Farsi), attempts to sum up the reasons which have allegedly justified not only the sanctions on Iran decided by the UN Security Council, but also those adopted by the EU itself, which, as the document make clear, are ‘autonomous sanctions, beyond the ones imposed on Iran by UNSC Resolutions’. However, the recent EU statement, like others making allegations against Iran with respect to its nuclear programme, is vague and imprecise in terms of content of the obligations allegedly breached by Iran. It states that ‘[s]anctions are a response to Iran’s violations of its international obligations’, but it fails to give a precise indication of exactly what obligations would have been breached. In fact, it is noteworthy that the statement limits itself to pointing to the violation by Iran ‘of several resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors resolutions’, and does not state explicitly that Iran would have breached either its Safeguards agreement with the IAEA, or the NPT itself (which mandates in its Article III the implementation of such safeguards). I have shown previously (here and here on EJIL:Talk!) that it is very dubious that EU sanctions on Iran agreed in 2012, including the comprehensive oil and gas embargo and the freezing of assets of the Iranian central bank, actually comply with both procedural and substantive conditions applicable to countermeasures under the 2001 ILC Articles on State Responsibility.

The purpose of this post is to make two further points. First, the IAEA, in making findings (in Sept 2005) of non-compliance by Iran, has not applied properly applicable rules (both procedural and substantive) in its assessment of Iran’s conduct with respect to its obligations under Iran’s NPT Safeguards Agreement’ (CSA). This implies that the legal validity of such finding is, to say the least, very doubtful.

Second, an authoritative legal determination of the issue of Iranian compliance (or non-compliance) with the obligations assumed under the CSA, or a pronouncement on the existence and the materiality of a breach by Iran (in the meaning of ‘material breach’ under Article 60 of the Vienna Conventions) of the latter, has not yet been made and would indeed require the involvement of the ICJ or of an arbitral tribunal. Read the rest of this entry…

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People’s Justice: Addressing the 1988 Massacre of Political Prisoners in Iran

Published on October 2, 2012        Author: 

 Parisa Zangeneh is currently finishing her LL.M. at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and she completed her LL.B. at the University of Edinburgh and her B.A. at McGill University. She would like to thank those who provided assistance on previous drafts of this note.

“It is far better for an Imam to err in clemency than to err in punishment.”  Ayatollah Montazeri

Introduction

The victims of bloodshed, torture, and horror deserve justice, and selective justice is no remedy. The humanitarians of the world have exercised a discriminatory approach in selecting which human rights atrocities on which to focus, yet this does not provide redress to the invisible suffering of those who, for perhaps political reasons, have been overlooked. This is the case of those who suffered and died in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran, and this is why the establishment of a People’s Tribunal to address what happened to them, their families, and Iran is so important. To think that this happened in 1988, but that work is actively underway to address these atrocities only at this late stage, in 2012, highlights the need for uniform and intense scrutiny on all crimes on this scale – especially those that have been ignored by the international community.

 An important consideration before the People’s Tribunal will be the international criminal implications of the 1988 political prisoner massacre. The crime of genocide will likely feature in this discussion, considering that some of those who died were atheists or agnostics, and there is an unanswered question of whether these groups fulfill the “religious group” criterion in the 1948 Genocide Convention definition of that crime. Alternatively, or perhaps concurrently, charges of war crimes and/or crimes against humanity may be easier to prove. Read the rest of this entry…

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Update on State Immunity

Published on September 7, 2012        Author: 

For those interested in recent developments in domestic state immunity acts, see earlier posts here and here, Canada has now announced that Iran will be formally listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. Canada has closed its embassy in Iran and declared personae non gratae all remaining Iranian diplomats in Canada. The news release from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) can be found here. Earlier attempts to sue Iran in Canada’s courts can be found herehere and here.

Update: In a separate news release, now available here, Canada has announced that it is listing Syria and Iran as state supporters of terrorism.

 

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Countermeasures vs. Collective Security? The EU Sanctions Against Iran

Published on June 22, 2012        Author: 

 Pierre-Emmanuel Dupont, is a lawyer based in Paris,France. His practice is centered on public international law and international investment. His article “Countermeasures and Collective Security: The Case of the EU Sanctions Against Iran” will appear shortly in (2012) 17 Journal of Conflict and Security Law but is now available here

The additional sanctions agreed in early 2012 by the European Union against Iran in relation to its nuclear program (see Council Decision 2012/35/CFSP of  23 January 2012, and Council Regulation 267/2012 of 23 March 2012), including an embargo on imports of Iranian oil and the freeze of assets of the Iranian Central Bank, go well beyond those mandated by the successive UN Security Council resolutions (Res. 1737 (2006); 1747 (2007); 1803 (2008) and 1929 (2010); for a comprehensive analysis of Res. 1737 and Res. 1929, see e.g. D H Joyner, ‘The Security Council as a Legal Hegemon’, (2012) 43 Georgetown Journal of International Law 225-257, at 238-248.). Given their unprecedented extent, they raise various specific issues regarding their lawfulness under international law. I have written an article (a prepublication version of which is available here) in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Conflict and Security Law, which aims at characterizing these measures. In this piece I argue that the EU measures cannot be characterised as measures of retorsion or as sanctions. Rather they are to be regarded as countermeasures. However, characterising these measures as such raises the question whether it is open to States or regional organizations to take countermeasures in circumstances where the UN Security Council has already adopted measures under Chapter VII of the Charter.

According to the ILC, a retorsion  is ‘unfriendly’ conduct ‘which is not inconsistent with any international obligation of the State engaging in it even though it may be a response to an internationally wrongful act’ (see Commentaries on the Draft articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts, in 2001 ILC Yearbook II(2), at 128). While it is true that measures restricting or impeding trade relations (in general or in specific areas), such as an embargo, are a typical example, often quoted, of retorsion (see ILC Commentaries on State Responsibility Articles at 128), it remains that, as it has been rightly noted, measures of the kind of those enacted by the EU in January 2012 ‘go beyond mere expressions of disapproval and involve the suspension of the performance of international legal obligations otherwise owed to Iran’ (N. Jansen Calamita, Sanctions, Countermeasures, and the Iranian Nuclear Issue, (2009) 42 Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 1393-1442, at 1397). Indeed, in this case, the EU measures actually imply non-performance of various international legal obligations owed to Iran, for instance treaty commitments under BITs (see e.g. Iran-Germany BIT, 1965, Iran-France BIT, 2003). It may also be considered that the oil embargo, and in particular the mandatory termination of existing contracts related to import, purchase and transport of petrochemical products, raises prima facie an issue of compliance with a customary standard of investment protection. Read the rest of this entry…

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‘Crowing’ About Iran Sanctions Should Stop

Published on May 25, 2012        Author: 

Daniel Joyner is Professor of Law at the University of Alabama School of Law. His research interests are focused in nuclear weapons nonproliferation law and civilian nuclear energy law. He has also written extensively on international use of force law, and on the UN Security Council. He is the author of International Law and the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (Oxford University Press, 2009) and Interpreting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (Oxford University Press, 2011).

There is a good bit of “crowing” going on at the moment by US officials, particularly about the role of Western financial sanctions in “bringing Iran to the table” for negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the West about its nuclear program. For example, US Treasury Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said regarding these sanctions:

“They [Iran] are increasingly isolated — diplomatically, financially and economically … I don’t think there is any question that the impact of this pressure played a role in Iran’s decision to come to the table.”

This assessment, however, reflects a good deal of peripheral blindness: both about the past and about the future of the Western sanctions program.

If the question is: has the policy of institutional escalation at the IAEA and the UN Security Council (UNSC), and the imposition of sanctions on Iran by the UN, the US and the European Union (EU), had an influence on Iran’s actions and the development of a crisis between Iran and the West over its nuclear program, the answer is definitely yes. But not in the way these crowing US officials think.

The reasons that Iran stopped implementing its Additional Protocol safeguards agreement with the IAEA back in 2005, pulled back from meaningful discussions with the IAEA and the West at the same time, have since become entrenched in their determination not to give in to Western pressure, and even threatened to block the straits of Hormuz and send world oil prices skyrocketing, have been explicitly stated by Iran to be the decisions by the IAEA and the UNSC requiring Iran to cease its enrichment of uranium beginning in 2005, and the sanctions that have been imposed by the UNSC, and unilaterally by the US and the EU, since that time.

To put it simply, the West’s sanctions program is the reason that Iran pulled back from the negotiating table in the first place.

To now claim that Western sanctions have had the successful effect of bringing Iran back to the negotiating table is to ignore this broader view of the history of the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program, and the material role that Western sanctions have played in actually creating and intensifying the crisis. Read the rest of this entry…

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Iran and the Strait of Hormuz: some initial thoughts

Published on February 2, 2012        Author: 

Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to any oil embargo or other unilateral sanctions taken against it. The Strait of Hormuz, depending on the reports you read, is at its narrowest somewhere between 17 and 30 nautical miles wide. The bordering States Oman and Iran both assert 12 nautical mile territorial seas. However, the deep water channels that are safe for tankers, used under an International Maritime Organization traffic separation scheme, are only two miles wide each. The outbound lane from the Persian Gulf passes through waters off Oman, the inbound lane through Iranian territorial waters. (Please correct me if I have any of this factual material wrong.)

What legal regime applies to the route through Iranian territorial waters? The ordinary starting point would be that a State may temporarily suspend innocent passage its territorial waters, without discrimination, for essential security reasons (Article 25(3), UN Convention on the Law of the Sea). However, as Hormuz is a strait used for international navigation, Iran lacks that ordinary power.

Under UNCLOS, where a strait is used for international navigation and there is no equally convenient route through open high seas waters, then “all ships and aircraft enjoy the right of transit passage, which shall not be impeded” (Art. 38(1)). This would seem decisively against Iran, but for the fact it is only a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and has never ratified it. The precise legal regime applying to Iran and the Strait of Hormuz is thus open to debate.

Some States, especially the US and UK, contend the UNCLOS regime of unimpeded transit passage is customary international law. The alternative is that outside UNCLOS there is only a customary international law right of non-suspendable innocent passage. The Corfu Channel case established in 1949 that warships, and a fortiori merchant ships, have a right of innocent passage through international straits which the coastal State may not suspend.

It was certainly held under the Corfu Channel case that in a time of heightened tensions Albania would have been entitled to regulate (though not prohibit or effectively nullify) the passage of warships through its waters. (See further the discussion in Churchill and Lowe.) Thus it is clearly arguable that under the non-suspendable innocent passage regime a coastal State retains its right to prevent non-innocent passage by individual foreign vessels; while under the UNCLOS transit passage regime it would lack any such rights of enforcement (though it would retain the right to formally regulate certain matters).

Thus, there is some basis for an argument that Iran could seek to restrictively regulate passage through its territorial sea short of suspending innocent passage – provided that as a matter of custom the Corfu Channel and not the UNCLOS rule applies.

However, in the comments to Sahib Singh’s recent post on Iranian sanctions Dan Joyner raised the question whether Iran could take countermeasures in the Strait in response to illegal interventions against its nuclear programme. Rather than close the Strait, Dan suggested Iran might be justified in seizing and confiscating vessels of the nationality of the States responsible for various illegal interventions against its nuclear programme (presuming these acts could be proven the responsibility of Israel and the United States).

Ordinarily, under the ILC Articles on State Responsibility, countermeasures must:

  • be targeted only against the responsible State;
  • be preceded by an offer to negotiate;
  • consist only of the injured State withholding performance of one or more international obligations owed to the responsible State;
  • be proportionate and readily reversible; and
  • not involve the use of force.

Technically, seizing individual vessels under Dan’s scenario would not involve closing the Strait. Could it be described as suspending the right of innocent passage of certain targeted States? Perhaps, though I have some (possibly formalistic) qualms about the idea that suspending a freedom from interference can create a positive right to interfere. That aside, would seizing merchant vessels involve a prohibited use of force under the UN Charter? The majority view among scholars would appear to be that such a “police action” is not usually tantamount to a use of force (see e.g. Guyana v. Suriname), though much might depend on how such an interdiction operation was carried out.

The suggestion some vessels could be seized as a countermeasure is thus not implausible, but the real question would be sufficient proof of attribution of the complained of conduct to the targeted States.

Finally, one might note that actually closing the whole of the Strait by force could constitute a blockade of the ports of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq. This would appear to be a prima facie act of aggression against these States as the General Assembly’s Definition of Aggression (UNGAR 3314) includes blockade of ports under Article 3(c). Such an act of aggression would, at a minimum, justify Security Council intervention though we could debate what other action might be permissible in such a case.

This is far from a fully developed analysis, so thoughts are welcome. My apologies if my replies to comments are less than timely.

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