The Trump administration has been tightening the screws on Iran ever since the U.S. withdrew in May from the nuclear deal. It has imposed sanctions, increased its hostile rhetoric, and threatened its own allies for working with Tehran. Now comes one more item on that list: On Wednesday, the Trump administration tore up a little-known, Eisenhower-era treaty of amity with the Islamic Republic on the same day the International Court of Justice ruled that U.S. sanctions on Iran must exempt humanitarian items.
In announcing the decision concerning the 1955 treaty, Mike Pompeo, the U.S. secretary of state, said at the State Department. “This is a decision, frankly, that is 39 years overdue.”
The more than six-decade-old accord survived the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran that was followed by the takeover of the U.S. Embassy, and the hostage-taking of 52 Americans, including diplomats, for 444 days. It also survived what has mostly been low after low in the intervening decades, including near weekly chants of “death to America” in the Islamic Republic, round after round of crippling U.S. sanctions, and even the shooting down of by the U.S. military of an Iranian airliner with 290 people on board. As Farshad Kashani wrote in National Interest, the two countries have used the treaty’s dispute-resolution mechanism, which relies on the ICJ, at various times since 1988 when the Iran Air flight was shot down—most recently in July.
That’s when Iran brought a case at The Hague-based court alleging violations of the Treaty of Amity, challenging, among other things, the U.S. withdrawal from the multilateral nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic. But the court’s ruling Wednesday was much narrower in scope, dealing only with the sale of “humanitarian” goods to Iran, which the court said the U.S. should not sanction. Pompeo said that “existing exceptions, authorizations and licensing policies for humanitarian-related transactions and safety of flight will remain in effect.” But, he added: “We’re disappointed that the court failed to recognize that it has no jurisdiction to issue any orders related to these sanctions measures with the United States.” The ICJ’s orders are legally binding but not enforceable.
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The Trump administration is meanwhile preparing to impose more punitive measures on the Islamic Republic next month. At the UN last week, Trump asked “all nations to isolate Iran’s regime as long as its aggression continues.”
The Trump administration says it wants countries that buy Iranian oil to reduce their imports to zero, and has even threatened to sanction its partners who do business with Iran if they don’t stop. Those partners, which include European countries, Russia, and China, are working to devise their own system to work with Iran in order to keep the Islamic Republic in the nuclear agreement under which it agreed to freeze it nuclear program in exchange for political and economic incentives. Additionally, the administration has set up an Iran Action Group whose work is centered on nuclear activities, terrorism, and the detention of American citizens in Iran.
The U.S. says that the nuclear agreement rewarded Iran despite its malign activities. It accuses the Islamic Republic of supporting terrorism, of pursuing a ballistic-missile program, of supporting Syria’s Assad regime, and of fomenting unrest in Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq. Indeed, Iran’s influence in Iraq has become a key point of friction between the two countries as the fragile Iraqi state tries to form a government. Both countries have strong influence in Iraq that they are keen to preserve. In past years, they have maintained a tacit understanding on their respective allies in the country.
But last week, the U.S. pulled American diplomats from the consulate in Basra, just days after accusing Iran of not preventing rockets being fired at the facility. On Wednesday, Pompeo repeated those remarks, holding Tehran responsible.
“Iran is the origin of the current threat to Americans in Iraq,” he said. “Our intelligence in this regard is solid. We can see the hand of the ayatollah and his henchmen supporting these attacks on the United States.”