In response to a decision by the highest court at the United Nations on Wednesday ordering the United States to lift sanctions on Iran that affect the country’s supply of humanitarian goods and services, the United States has decided to end the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations and Consular Rights.
Iran had challenged the sanctions in a case it filed at the International Court of Justice in July, arguing that by pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal in May and imposing sanctions, the U.S. had violated that treaty.
In a brief press conference on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has said that Iran’s case “lacked merit” told reporters that the U.S. was terminating the 1955 agreement.
“This is a decision that is, frankly, 39 years overdue,” said Pompeo, referring to the 1979 revolution in Iran, and repeating the Trump administration’s narrative on Iran’s “maligned” behavior in the Middle East.
Iran, for its part, celebrated the ruling, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeting:
UN top court rules that US must comply with obligations violated by re-imposing sanctions on Iranian people when exiting #JCPOA. Another failure for sanctions-addicted USG and victory for rule of law. Imperative for int’l community to collectively counter malign US unilateralism. pic.twitter.com/8AMGL0tqXU
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) October 3, 2018
Included in the court order are parts needed for commercial aircraft in Iran. For decades prior to the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran was under sanctions that prohibited it from purchasing parts for its commercial aircrafts. This mean that Iranians have had to fly with old, usually Russian airplanes, resulting in frequent, horrific crashes.
Jarrett Blanc, senior fellow in the Geoeconomics and Strategy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (and former deputy lead coordinator and State Department coordinator for Iran nuclear implementation under President Obama) told ThinkProgress that the ruling “could prompt the U.S. to think seriously about how [to] make sure that Iran and other sanctioned countries have realistic access to humanitarian goods, not just paper exceptions.”
But, he added via email, “Of course this Administration is instead just withdrawing from a 60 year old treaty that has provided the grounds for previous complaints about problematic Iranian policies.”
“And the next time the Administration claims they would have abided by the [nuclear deal] if it had been a treaty, ask how they consulted the Senate before announcing this withdrawal,” said Blanc.
The Associated Press reported that while the ruling of the International Court of Justice is legally binding, the court has no authority to make the administration of President Donald Trump enforce it.
In Wednesday’s preliminary ruling — which the U.S. is free to challenge — the court said that the U.S. must not impede, via the the re-imposition of sanctions, the export of medical goods, food, and parts needed to ensure the safety of civil aviation.
The court’s decision, said Richard Nephew, former director for Iran on the National Security Staff, won’t have much direct impact on the sanctions.
“It will enable the Iranians to claim US sanctions are illegal and being illegally implemented, but they were saying that anyway,” added Nephew, currently a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.
Answering questions via e-mail, Nephew said that there are already exceptions for humanitarian goods, but that, as Iran claims, “they’re not being used or being undermined by other sanctions.”
The big point, though, he said was that, “As Pompeo has already demonstrated, there is zero chance this Administration will respect the spirit — much less the letter — of an international stand-down order on sanctions, which this isn’t even.”
The court’s decision is the second time inside of a week that the Trump administration has been judged, in some measure, by the international community for its treatment of Iran.
On Sept. 26, while leading a U.N. Security Council meeting at which he was hoping to hear some support for his tactics on Iran (including violating the nuclear deal allowed sanctions to be lifted in exchange for inspections on Iran’s nuclear facilities and restrictions on its enrichment activities), he was handed cold plate of rejection from the council’s other 14 member states.
One after the other, they pointed out that while the deal did not cover every aspect of Iran’s behavior in the region, it was a step in the right direction in terms of limiting the country’s nuclear program. They all told Trump he was wrong to leave the deal.
Of course, Trump had kicked off his week at the U.N. by telling member states that he was not interested in multilateralism — a statement so stunningly counter to the very mission of the United Nations that it was akin to setting up whiskey bar at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Wasting no time in questioning the credibility of the International Court of Justice, National Security Adviser John Bolton on Wednesday announced that the U.S. would “commence a review of all international agreements that may still expose the United States to purported binding jurisdiction dispute resolution in the International Court of Justice.”
“The United States will not sit idly by as baseless, politicized claims, are brought against us,” he added, which, oddly, also sums up how many view the Trump administration’s claims against Iran (politicized and baseless).
Bolton has previously indicated that being judged in an international court (specifically referring to the International Criminal Court of Justice) was meaningless to the United States.
Still, the rest of the world takes these things seriously.
The other parties to the 2015 deal with Iran — China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany — have all expressed support for the deal and are looking for ways to keep it viable without facing the extraterritorial sanctions threatened by the Trump administration.