UN Court Tells US What It Can And Cannot Sanction In Iran

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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The United Nations’ top court ruled Wednesday that the U.S. must lift any restrictions on humanitarian exports to Iran, handing Tehran a diplomatic victory as it seeks to mitigate the effects of renewed sanctions from Washington.

In a unanimous ruling, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the U.S. to remove “any impediments arising from the measures announced on May 8 to the free exportation to Iran of medicines and medical devices, food and agricultural commodities.”

Sanctions on those goods “may have a serious detrimental impact on the health and lives of individuals on the territory of Iran,” Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said, according to CBS News.

Washington must also remove penalties on the export of aircraft parts to Iran because of the “potential to endanger civil aviation safety in Iran and the lives of its users,” the court said.

Iran first brought its case against the U.S. to the ICJ in July, after President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions that had been lifted under the agreement. The first round of sanctions against Iran’s trade in metals and U.S dollars took effect in August, and a second round targeting its energy, shipping and financial sectors will hit in November.

Tehran’s suit argued the renewed sanctions violated the 1955 Treaty of Amity between the U.S. and Iran. The treaty predates the Iran’s Islamic Revolution, which overthrew the U.S.-friendly shah in 1979.

At a press conference Wednesday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the U.S. was terminating the 1955 treaty, a decision he called “39 years overdue.” But he said Washington would comply with the ICJ ruling through existing humanitarian exceptions to U.S. sanctions.

The ICJ ruling comes as Iran is trying to preserve the framework of the nuclear deal with the remaining participants — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. At the U.N. General Assembly session in September, representatives from the signatories announced the creation of a special financial channel that aims to allow them to continue trading with Iran while avoiding U.S. sanctions. (RELATED: EU, Russia, China Hatch Plan To Protect Companies From Trump’s Iran Sanctions)

Despite those efforts, Iran’s economy has faltered since the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal. Dozens of major European firms have suspended their operations in Iran due to the threat of secondary sanctions, while the Iranian rial has plummeted in value amid a spike in domestic prices and high unemployment.

Tehran has accused Washington of trying to provoke the overthrow of the regime by strangling Iran’s economy. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Wednesday’s ICJ ruling was a blow to the “sanctions-addicted” U.S. government.

Is is “imperative for [international] community to collectively counter malign US unilateralism,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.

The 15-judge ICJ mediates legal disputes between U.N. member states. While its decisions are binding and cannot be appealed, it has no way to enforce them.

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