The World Court has ordered the United States on Wednesday to ensure that sanctions against Iran do not impact humanitarian aid or civil aviation safety.
Judges at the International Court Of Justice (ICJ handed a victory to Tehran, which had argued that sanctions imposed since May by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump violate the terms of a 1955 Treaty of Amity between the two countries.
The 1955 treaty marked the close relationship between the U.S. and Iran during the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The alliance was later condemned by the revolutionaries in 1978-79 as treason by the king.
However, Iran has used the treaty to argue legal or diplomatic cases against the U.S. on several occasions. It is not clear why successive U.S. administrations have not abrogated the treaty. The Islamic Republic and its leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei constantly call the U.S. "Iran's enemy" but have also not cancelled the treaty.
Meanwhile, the 1955 Treaty of Amity between Iran and the United States says in para 2 of its Article 21 that "Any dispute between the two parties about the interpretation or implementation of this treaty which cannot be settled through diplomatic means, would be referred to the International Court of Justice, unless both parties agree to settle it though other amicable means."
The ruling is likely to have at most limited practical impact on the implementation of sanctions, which Washington is reimposing and tightening after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with world powers.
Iran welcomed on Wednesday a ruling of the World Court, the highest United Nations tribunal, that ordered the United States to ensure that sanctions against Tehran do not impact humanitarian aid or civil aviation safety.
"The decision proved once again that the Islamic Republic is right and the U.S. sanctions against people and citizens of our country are illegal and cruel," the foreign ministry said in a statement published on Tasnim news agency and state media.
The ICJ is the United Nations’ highest court for resolving disputes between nations. Its rulings are binding, but it has no power to enforce them, and both the United States and Iran have effectively ignored its decisions in the past in cases they have brought against each other.
The court found that assurances offered by Washington in August that it would do its best to ensure sanctions would not affect humanitarian conditions were "not adequate to address fully the humanitarian and safety concerns raised" by Iran.
"The court considers that the United States must, in line with its obligations under the 1955 treaty, remove by means of its choosing any impediment arising from the measures announced on 8 May 2018," said Presiding Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf, reading a summary of a ruling by the 15-member panel of justices.
The sanctions may not hurt "exportation to the territory of Iran of goods required for humanitarian needs such as medicines, medical devices and foodstuffs and agricultural commodities as well as goods and services required for the safety of civil aviation," he said.
Washington argued last month that Iran's request was an attempt to misuse the court and that the 1955 treaty specifically ruled out using courts to resolve disputes.
U.S. State Department Legal Adviser Jennifer Newstead had said Iran's real quarrel was Iran's frustration over U.S. plans to pull out of the 2015 nuclear pact, under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
The unilateral U.S. move has been opposed by the other countries that are party to the agreement, including Washington's close European allies Britain, France and Germany as well as Russia and China.
Despite international criticism, Washington is pushing ahead with the measures. A new series of sanctions is due to go into effect Nov. 4 aimed at sharply curtailing Iranian oil exports.