“On humanitarian grounds, the US must remove by means of its choosing any impediment to the free exportation to Iran of goods involving humanitarian concerns,” the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said in its ruling on Wednesday.
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The ICJ’s rulings are binding, but it has no power to enforce them.
“The decision proved once again that the Islamic Republic is right and the US sanctions against people and citizens of our country are illegal and cruel,” Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Tehran had urged the ICJ, also known as the World Court, to order Washington to suspend the sanctions temporarily while it hears Iran’s case in full, a process that could take years.
Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from Tehran, said that in essence, the ICJ decision is not exactly what the Iranians wanted, nor is it what the US wanted.
Iranians would have wanted a “complete lifting of all of the sanctions”, Basravi said.
“They [ICJ judges] talked about parts and equipment for civil aviation – which has been a source of a lot of strife in Iran,” he said.
“Even though this court’s rulings cannot be appealed and they are binding, there is no way to enforce it – especially now that the US has left the court,” Basravi said.
Tehran had also argued that the sanctions imposed since May by US President Donald Trump’s administration violate the terms of their 1955 Treaty of Amity.
Washington says that Iran’s request is an attempt to misuse the court. Iran has invoked a little-known 1955 Treaty of Amity that was signed before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, which caused a sharp deterioration in bilateral ties that has endured until today.
US State Department Legal Adviser Jennifer Newstead argued during oral hearings last month that the 1955 treaty specifically rules out using courts to resolve disputes.
Iran’s real quarrel, she argued, is not within the court’s jurisdiction, but Iran’s frustration over President Trump’s plan to pull out of a 2015 landmark agreement between Iran, the US and five world powers.
That pact saw sanctions against Tehran lifted in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
But the Trump administration withdrew from the agreement in May and announced unilateral plans to restore sanctions against Tehran.
The US move has been opposed by other major powers, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, Germany and the European Union, which helped negotiate the deal.
Iran says the US sanctions, which have prompted many foreign companies to stop doing business with it and are undermining its already weak economy, violate the terms of the 1955 treaty.
According to Luciano Zaccara, a researcher specialised in Iranian politics at Qatar University, the ICJ ruling is “great news” for the nuclear deal.
“For sure it can contribute to make things easier for the EU to implement the vehicle for payments and transactions that can make the deal to survive,” Zaccara told Al Jazeera.
“But I am not quite sure that Trump administration will change anything on their policy towards Iran because of this decision … They will not recognise the jurisdiction of the ICJ on US foreign policy.”
Last month, the EU decided to set up a new mechanism to enable legal trade with Iran without encountering US sanctions.
Despite international criticism, Washington is pushing ahead with a new series of sanctions, due to go into effect on November 4.