ICJ issues interim order in favor of Iran in battle over US sanctions

It is highly questionable whether Washington will heed the order, as the court has no enforcement arm.

FILE PHOTO: General view of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands January 23, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/EVA PLEVIER/FILE PHOTO)
FILE PHOTO: General view of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands January 23, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/EVA PLEVIER/FILE PHOTO)
The International Court of Justice on Wednesday rejected US objections to its jurisdiction over Trump administration-era sanctions on Iran, though any ultimate resolution is still expected in the diplomatic arena.
Votes on the several jurisdictional issues were unanimous against the US, or 15-1 on some issues.
In a bizarre twist, the ICJ is hearing a case by Iran suing the US for withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and imposing sanctions, by using a 1950s friendship treaty.
Ignoring Iranian terrorist and attacks by its proxies against the US since 1979, the Islamic Republic has argued that America’s failure to withdraw from the treaty until 2018 empowered the ICJ to intervene on this intensely diplomatic and global security issue.
In May 2018, the US exited the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
By July, Tehran had already sued the US before the ICJ, claiming that US actions violated the 1955 Treaty of Amity between the countries, and violated the 2015 deal and other international obligations.
In the Trump era, the US steadfastly argued that the ICJ has no jurisdiction over the dispute and focused on this in communications with the court.
Already in 1986, the US had withdrew from the court’s compulsory jurisdiction, but the ICJ believes it can retain jurisdiction sometimes even against a state’s wishes, depending on which global agreements or issues are at play.
Regardless of the ICJ ruling, it is highly questionable whether Washington will heed the order, as the court has no enforcement arm. In several past cases, the US has ignored the court’s rulings.
In the Trump era, the administration was even overtly hostile to international courts as a matter of nationalism.
While the Biden administration is expected to try to cooperate more with international judicial bodies in theory, in practice the new administration is expected to try to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran in the diplomatic arena.
Responding to an earlier procedural ICJ ruling against the US position, then-secretary of state Mike Pompeo withdrew from the 1955 agreement with Iran to further undermine any case before the court. In the past, Washington used the treaty in its charges against Tehran, including the legal case it brought against the state during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979.
Previously, the ICJ had also rejected the American argument that the 2015 deal excluded the court’s jurisdiction and trumped the 1955 deal, writing that it could receive jurisdiction from multiple sources.
Lead judge and ICJ president Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf of Somalia presided over the hearing.
Ned Price at the State Department press briefing: 
"We have great respect for the International Court of Justice. At the same time, we are disappointed that the court did not accept our well-founded legal arguments, that the case Iran brought is outside the court's jurisdiction and the court should not hear it. While we do not agree with the court's reasoning, today's judgment is a preliminary ruling, not a decision on the merits. While Iran may seek to frame this decision as somehow supporting its view on the merits, the ICJ is rules and case law make plain that a decision on preliminary objections does not prejudge the merits. In the next phase of this case, we'll explain why Iran's claim has no merits. We remain clear-eyed about the dangers posed by Iran's malign activities."  

Omri Nahmias contributed to this article.