The United Nations’ highest court on Wednesday ordered the United States to lift sanctions on Iran that affect imports of humanitarian goods and products and services linked to the safety of civil aviation.
The ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is legally binding, but it remains to be seen if the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump will comply.
Mr. Trump moved to restore tough U.S. sanctions in May after withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers. Iran challenged the sanctions in a case filed in July at the ICJ.
In a preliminary ruling, the court said that Washington must “remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from” the reimposition of sanctions to the export to Iran of medicine and medical devices, food and agricultural commodities and spare parts and equipment necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation.
While imposing the so-called “provisional measures,” court president Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf stressed that the ruling does not prejudge the ultimate outcome of the case or establish that the court has jurisdiction.
Iranian state television trumpeted the court’s decision in a scrolling graphic at the bottom of TV screens: “The victory of Tehran over Washington by the Hague Court.”
The U.S. is expected to challenge the court’s jurisdiction in a future hearing.
At hearings in August, Tehran sought the suspension of the sanctions while the case challenging their legality is being heard – a process that can take years. U.S. lawyers responded that the sanctions are a legal and justified national security measure that cannot be challenged by Tehran at the world court.
In its decision, the court said that the U.S. sanctions “have the potential to endanger civil aviation safety” in Iran and that sanctions limiting sales of goods required for humanitarian needs such as food, medicines and medical devices “may have a serious detrimental impact on the health and lives of individuals on the territory of Iran.”
The court said that the Trump administration must “ensure that licences 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 U.S. and Iran to “refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute.”
Treaty of Amity
Iran alleges that the sanctions breach a 1955 bilateral agreement known as the Treaty of Amity that regulates and promotes economic and consular ties between the two countries.
The treaty was signed when the U.S. and Iran were still allies following the 1953 revolution fomented by Britain and the U.S. that ultimately cemented the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
Diplomatic relations were severed following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and takeover of the U.S. Embassy and the ensuing hostage crisis. However, the treaty remains in force.
Wednesday’s ruling could set up another clash between the Trump administration and the Hague-based court. Last month, Mr. Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, denounced the International Criminal Court, a separate and unrelated institution based just a few kilometres away from the ICJ.
The ICC prosecutes people accused of war atrocities while the ICJ settles disputes between nations.