by Will Racke
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday the U.S. will terminate a 63-year-old treaty with Iran, hours after a top United Nations court ruled in favor of Tehran in a lawsuit challenging U.S. sanctions.
Pompeo said the abrogation of the 1955 Treaty of Amity was “39 years overdue,” referring to the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran that resulted in the overthrow of the U.S.-friendly shah.
Until Pompeo’s announcement, the Treaty of Amity had remained in force even though Washington and Tehran have not had normal diplomatic relations since 1980.
The move follows a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ordered Washington to lift any sanctions on Iran affecting humanitarian exports. Iran had sued the U.S. in July, arguing the renewal of sanctions that had been lifted as part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal violated the 1955 treaty.
At a press briefing Wednesday morning, Pompeo called Iran’s claims under the treaty “absurd.” He also accused Tehran of exploiting the ICJ for propaganda purposes as it tries to preserve the framework of the nuclear deal.
In its ruling, the ICJ said U.S. sanctions had violated Iran’s rights under the treaty by making it “difficult if not impossible” for Iran to purchase non-sanctioned items such as foodstuffs and medical supplies. Sanctions on those goods may have a “serious detrimental impact on the health and lives of individuals on the territory of Iran,” ICJ Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said.
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 UN 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.
Despite those efforts, Iran’s economy has faltered since the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal in May. 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.
Pompeo called the ICJ ruling a “defeat for Iran” because it did not grant all of Tehran’s requests to block U.S. sanctions. Washington will allow certain humanitarian transactions with Iran to continue via already existing exceptions to U.S. sanctions laws, he added.
The provisional ICJ ruling allows the U.S. to make additional arguments before a final decision is rendered. Washington is likely to challenge the decision on the grounds that U.S. rights to pursue its national security interests supersede Iran’s rights under the 1955 treaty.
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