The United Nations’ highest court Wednesday ordered the United States to remove any restrictions on the export of humanitarian goods and services to Iran, granting Tehran a diplomatic victory after it challenged new U.S. sanctions in July.
The interim ruling by the International Court of Justice comes as the United States has sought to pressure Iran over what it says are “malign activities” in the Middle East, including support for militant proxies and its ballistic missile program. The Trump administration in May withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal the United States signed with Iran and other world powers, announcing renewed U.S. sanctions on dollar transactions, food exports and sales of aluminum and steel. Next month, new U.S. restrictions will target oil sales, Iran’s energy and shipping sectors, and foreign financial institutions transacting with Iran’s Central Bank.
Wednesday’s verdict is binding, but the court, located in The Hague, lacks the power to enforce its decisions. Iran had argued that sanctions announced in May violated the 1955 Treaty of Amity between the United States and Iran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the directive “another failure” for the United States and a “victory for the rule of law.”
It’s “imperative for int’l community to collectively counter malign US unilateralism,” Zarif said on Twitter.
The 15-member panel of judges said that the United States “must remove” any impediments to the free exportation to Iran of goods required for humanitarian needs, as well as spare parts for civil aviation safety. The court said that the assurances given by the United States that its sanctions would have limited humanitarian impact were “not adequate to address fully the humanitarian and safety concerns raised by” Iran.
The measures adopted by the United States, the court said, “may entail irreparable consequences.”
Under the nuclear deal, Iran agreed to curb its atomic energy program in exchange for the lifting of major U.N. and some U.S. sanctions. That agreement permitted Iranian oil sales, halted penalties on European firms for doing business with Iran, and allowed Iran to export things such as carpets, pistachios and other goods.
The Trump administration, however, decided to violate the deal by reimposing the most stringent of sanctions, as part of a tougher new policy on Iran. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear energy watchdog, Iran has not violated the terms of the nuclear agreement.
On Wednesday, the ICJ President Abdulqawi Yusuf, said that the court’s order applies to medicines and medical devices; foodstuffs and agricultural commodities; and spare parts, equipment and repair services for civil aviation. The United States must also ensure that licenses and authorizations are granted and that payment for such goods and services are not subject to any restrictions.
The United States “maintains broad authorizations and exceptions that allow for the sale of food, medicine and medical devices by U.S. persons or from the United States to Iran,” according to guidelines form the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions.
U.S. sanctions law is triggered, however, if a transaction involves U.S.-designated persons, such as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps or a designated Iranian bank.
As a result, the private Iranian institutions that facilitate payments for humanitarian goods could be hindered by broad U.S. restrictions on both Iranian entities and the country’s banking sector.It was unclear if Wednesday’s ruling would remove those obstacles in practice.”
Ambiguities about the scope of the returning restrictions . . . have left bank leaders and government officials in Iran with more questions than answers,” Tehran-based financial journalist, Maziar Motamedi, reported last month for the Iran-focused business website, Bourse & Bazaar.”
Even if food sales to Iran remain permitted under U.S. sanctions, the imposition of secondary sanctions on Iran’s private sector banks could make the trade effectively impossible,” Motamedi wrote.
The sanctions also come as Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost some two-thirds of its value in the last six months.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Erin Cunningham