The U.N.’s top court ordered the United States on Wednesday to lift sanctions on humanitarian goods for Iran in a stunning rebuke to U.S. President Donald Trump.
The International Court of Justice ruled unanimously that U.S. sanctions on some goods breached a 1955 “Treaty of Amity” between the U.S. and Iran.
In response, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday that the U.S. will terminate the treaty.
Tehran hailed the decision as a “victory” after the ICJ ruled that sanctions reimposed in August after Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal put Iranian lives at risk.
The U.S. said the case was “meritless” and only involved a few sanctions, although the decision is still likely to rile Trump.
Pompeo characterized the ruling as a “defeat for Iran” and said the ICJ “has no jurisdiction” to make any ruling on sanctions that affect American national security.
Wednesday’s ruling is a preliminary decision on so-called provisional measures ahead of a final decision on the matter, which may take several more years, experts said.
The ruling states Washington “shall remove by means of its choosing” any impediments to the exportation to Iran of “medicines and medical devices, food, and agricultural commodities” as well as airplane parts necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation.
The court said sanctions on goods “required for humanitarian needs… may have a serious detrimental impact on the health and lives of individuals on the territory of Iran.”
It remains unclear whether the judgment will be anything more than symbolic. Washington and Tehran have ignored ICJ decisions in the past, and Pompeo’s comments on Wednesday suggest the U.S. intends to do so again.
Decisions by the Hague-based ICJ, which rules on disputes between United Nations members, are binding but it has no mechanism through which it can enforce its decisions.
Trump slapped the first round of sanctions on Iran in August after pulling the U.S. from the 2015 international deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, to the dismay of his European allies. The second round of punitive measures is due in November.
European allies have pledged to keep the deal alive, with plans for a mechanism to let firms skirt the U.S. sanctions as they do business with Iran.
Iran dragged the U.S. to the ICJ in July, and during four days of hearings in late August, its lawyers accused Washington of “strangling” its economy.
Foreign drugs are now a rare commodity in Iran which is also dealing with a free-falling currency and price hikes. Official Iranian statements acknowledge the shortage and say imports of certain drugs are no longer subsidized.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the court ruling “another failure for sanctions-addicted U.S. government and victory for rule of law.”
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
The foreign ministry said in a statement that the ruling was a “clear sign” that “Iran is in the right.”
Washington, however, says the case is outside the court’s purview.
“This is a meritless case over which the court has no jurisdiction,” U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra tweeted.
But Hoekstra pointed out that the tribunal “declined to grant the sweeping measures requested by Iran” and it was “a narrow decision on a very limited range of sectors.”
Iran, US Ignored Rulings
In 1986 Washington disregarded the court’s finding that it had violated international law by supporting the pro-U.S. Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
Iran ignored the ICJ’s ruling in 1980 to release hostages taken during the Iran hostage crisis.
Trump has previously shown his disdain for overarching international organizations that limit U.S. sovereignty, including the U.N.
He recently heavily criticized the separate International Criminal Court in The Hague over a probe into alleged U.S. abuses in Afghanistan. His national security advisor, John Bolton, said in a speech in September that the ICC is “already dead to us.”
Trump has also ridden roughshod over his allies, alarming them with his decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear deal that saw Iran agree to limit its nuclear program and let in international inspectors in return for an end to years of sanctions by the West.
Trump argues that funds from the lifting of sanctions under the pact have been used to support terrorism and build nuclear-capable missiles.
U.S.-Iran relations have plunged to a new low since Trump’s election in 2016.
Despite their 1955 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, Iran and the U.S. have not had diplomatic ties since 1980.
Hearings in a separate Iranian case against the U.S. freezing of around $2 billion of Iranian assets is due to start at the ICJ next week.
Bryan Bowman contributed reporting to this piece