Iran: UN court ruling shows Tehran is 'right'
The UN's top court ordered the United States Wednesday to lift sanctions on humanitarian goods for Iran in a stunning setback for US President Donald Trump.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague handed Iran a major victory, saying that the stinging economic sanctions put Iranian lives at risk. The ruling is likely to rile Trump, who reimposed the sanctions in May after pulling out of Iran’s international nuclear deal to the dismay of his allies.
The ICJ judges ruled that the sanctions on some goods breached a 1955 "Treaty of Amity" between Iran and the US that predates Iran's Islamic Revolution.
"The court finds unanimously that... the United States of America... shall remove by means of its choosing any impediments arising from the measures announced on 8 May to the free exportation to Iran of medicines and medical devices, food and agricultural commodities" as well as airplane parts, chief judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said.
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."
US sanctions also had the "potential to endanger civil aviation safety in Iran and the lives of its users."
The court said that the Trump administration must "ensure that licenses and necessary authorizations are granted" and payments not restricted if they are linked to the humanitarian and aviation goods.
The court also told both the United States and Iran to "refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute."
Rulings 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.
'In the right'
By limiting the order to sanctions covering humanitarian goods and the civil aviation industry, the ruling did not go as far as Iran had requested.
However, the Iranian Foreign Ministry welcomed the judgment as a "clear sign" that "Iran is in the right".
The ruling by the International Court of Justice "once again shows that the US government... is day by day becoming more isolated," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It said the court had found that the sanctions reimposed by Washington after it abandoned a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Tehran were illegal.
"World public opinion and all independent countries will, with peace of mind, strive... to keep and carry out the JCPOA," it added, using the official acronym for the agreement.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the court ruling "another failure for sanctions-addicted US government and victory for rule of law".
"Imperative for int'l community to collectively counter malign US unilateralism," he added in a tweet.
Ahead of the decision, Zarif said that the sanctions were a form of "psychological warfare" aimed at regime change.
Trump slapped a first round of sanctions on Iran in August after pulling out in May of the international deal aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions, to the dismay of his European allies. A second round of punitive measures is due in November.
Iran dragged the US to the ICJ in July, and during four days of hearings in late August, its lawyers accused Washington of "strangling" its economy.
Washington however forcefully told the court that it has no jurisdiction to rule on this case as it concerns a matter of national security.
The US criticized the court decision on Wednesday, saying the case was "meritless" and the court had "no jurisdiction".
"This is a meritless case over which the court has no jurisdiction," US Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra tweeted, shortly after a ruling at the International Court of Justice.
But Hoekstra pointed out that the Hague-based tribunal "declined to grant the sweeping measures requested by Iran" and it was "a narrow decision on a very limited range of sectors."
Wednesday's ruling is in fact a decision on so-called provisional measures ahead of a final decision on the matter, which may take several more years, experts said.
In 1986 Washington disregarded the court’s finding that it had violated international law by supporting the pro-US Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Iran in turn ignored the ICJ’s ruling in 1980 to release US embassy staff held during the US embassy takeover.
The 2015 nuclear deal 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.
European allies have pledged to keep the deal alive, with plans for a mechanism to let firms skirt the US sanctions as they do business with Iran.
Despite their 1955 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, Iran and the United States have not had diplomatic ties since 1980.
The case is the second brought by Tehran against Washington since 2016. That year it brought a suit at the ICJ against the freezing of around $2 billion of Iranian assets abroad which US courts say should go to American victims of terror attacks.
Hearings in that case are due to start next week.
AFP and AP contributed to this story.