The United States says it is canceling a decades-old friendship treaty with Iran after Tehran cited it in an international court case against Washington's sanctions policy.
"I'm announcing that the US is terminating the 1955 Treaty of Amity with Iran. This is a decision, frankly, that is 39 years overdue," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on October 3, referring to the year of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
After the announcement, Tehran slammed the United States as an "outlaw regime."
The U.S. move came after the top UN court ordered the United States to ease sanctions it reimposed on Iran following Washington's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers earlier this year.
The 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights called for "friendly relations" between Iran and the United States, encouraged mutual trade and investment, regulated diplomatic ties, and granted the International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction over disputes.
It was signed at a time of close relations between Washington and Tehran, long before the 1979 revolution brought about decades of hostility between the two.
In August, Washington slapped a first round of punitive measures on Iran after President Donald Trump in May pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
The U.S. moves sent Iran's economy into a downward spiral with the national currency, the rial, hitting record lows.
Iran challenged the reinstatement of sanctions in a case filed in July at the ICJ in The Hague, arguing that it breaches the friendship treaty between the two countries and accusing the United States of "economic aggression."
U.S. lawyers responded by saying the reimposition of the sanctions was legal and a national security measure that cannot be challenged at the UN court.
In a preliminary ruling in the case, the ICJ said earlier on October 3 that exports of "humanitarian" goods such as medicines and medical devices, food, and agricultural commodities" should be allowed, as well as aviation safety equipment.
It said the U.S. sanctions on such goods breached the 1955 treaty between Iran and the United States.
Announcing the decision, the court's president, Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said U.S. sanctions on goods "required for humanitarian needs...may have a serious detrimental impact on the health and lives of individuals on the territory of Iran."
Sanctions on aircraft spare parts, equipment, and associated services have the "potential to endanger civil aviation safety in Iran and the lives of its users," he also said.
The ruling is a decision on so-called provisional measures ahead of a final decision on the matter, which may take several years, according to experts.
Speaking to reporters, Pompeo said the ruling “marked a useful point for us to demonstrate the absolute absurdity of the Treaty of Amity between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran."
He also said the United States was "disappointed" that the ICJ "failed to recognize that it has no jurisdiction to issue any order relating to these sanctions measures with the United States, which is doing its work on Iran to protect its own essential security interests."
The secretary of state said that Iran's claims under the treaty were "absurd," citing Iran's “history of terrorism, ballistic-missile activity, and other malign behaviors,” and accused Tehran of "abusing the ICJ for political and propaganda purposes."
Pompeo added that the United States will work to ensure it is providing humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people.
"Today US withdrew from an actual US-Iran treaty after the ICJ ordered it to stop violating that treaty in sanctioning Iranian people. Outlaw regime," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif later tweeted.
Earlier, Zarif called the court decision "another failure for sanctions-addicted” U.S. government and “victory for rule of law."
And the Foreign Ministry said the ruling "proved once again the Islamic Republic is right and the U.S. sanctions against people and citizens of our country are illegal and cruel."
The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Hoekstra, said it was "a meritless case over which the court has no jurisdiction."
He added that the ruling did not go as far as Iran had requested, saying the court “issued a narrow decision on a very limited range of sectors."
The ICJ rules on disputes between UN member states. Its decisions are binding and cannot be appealed, but it has no mechanism to enforce them.
Both Washington and Tehran have ignored ICJ decisions in the past.