The Trump administration walked back its commitment to two international agreements Wednesday, withdrawing from a 63-year-old friendship treaty with Iran and limiting its exposure to decisions by the International Court of Justice.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Wednesday that the US is withdrawing from a 1955 “Treaty of Amity” with Iran after Tehran successfully made an international complaint that Washington had violated that accord.
And national security adviser John Bolton, citing Iran’s “abuse of the ICJ,” said the US would withdraw from the “optional protocol” under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
“We will commence a review of all international agreements that may still expose the US to purported binding jurisdiction dispute resolution in the International Court of Justice,” Bolton said. Palestinians also brought a complaint against the US to the ICJ in September, challenging the Trump administration’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Together, the moves reflect a push by the Trump administration to emphasize sovereignty over international cooperation and counter perceived threats to US independence, a central focus for Bolton who has railed against “global governance” and distrusts multilateral institutions.
“It is clearly part of a bigger campaign to undermine international institutions and its notable that Bolton emphasized that the US is going to be aiming to remove itself from any further jurisdiction,” said Richard Gowan, a a Senior Fellow at the Center for Policy Research at United Nations University. “I think that’s part of Bolton’s underlying agenda. He’s quite obsessed with restraints on US policy making.”
The US limited its exposure to the ICJ in the 1980s and now, said David Bosco, a professor at Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies, the US is “trying to make itself much harder to sue in international courts,” but that also means “if some other country is violating a treaty, the US won’t be able to bring a case against it.”
“I think they’ve decided they’re not going to use these courts very much, ‘mainly it’s a place where we get attacked,’ so we’re going to pull out,” Bosco said, describing it as “more of a symbolic thing and part of Bolton’s broader push, as he sees it, to protect the United States from the jurisdiction of international courts.”
The International Court of Justice ordered the US on Wednesday to lift any sanctions that affect goods required for “humanitarian needs” in Iran.
Tehran brought a complaint against the US in July, arguing that the US decision to pull out of the 2015 nuclear pact and reimpose sanctions violated the 1955 treaty.
Iran also said the US had violated the international nuclear agreement with its unilateral withdrawal in May, and that its re-imposed sanctions were so broad, that they are hurting ordinary Iranians.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif criticized the US decision to withdraw from the Treaty of Amity on Wednesday.
“US abrogated JCPOA -a multilateral accord enshrined in UNSC Resolution 2231- arguing that it seeks a bilateral treaty with Iran. 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,” he wrote on Twitter.
The court ordered the US to remove “impediments” to the export of medicine, medical devices, food and agricultural commodities, and civil aviation equipment to Iran.
“We’re disappointed that the court 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 risks – risk – interests,” Pompeo said.
“In light of how Iran has … abused the ICJ as a forum for attacking the United States,” Pompeo said, “I am, therefore, announcing today that the United States is terminating the Treaty of Amity with Iran,” which was signed before the 1979 revolution overthrew the US-backed Shah.
Pompeo said the US was making exceptions to its sanctions to deal with humanitarian issues, and said that “given Iran’s history of terrorism, ballistic missile activity and other malign behaviors, Iran’s claims under the treaty are absurd.”
“Existing exceptions, authorizations and licensing policies for humanitarian-related transactions and safety of flight will remain in effect,” Pompeo said. “The United States has been actively engaged on these issues without regard to any proceeding before the ICJ. We’re working closely with the Department of the Treasury to ensure that certain humanitarian-related transactions involving Iran can and will continue.”
Speaking from the White House podium Wednesday, Bolton said the ICJ decision was a “defeat for Iran” as it “correctly rejected nearly all of Iran’s requests.”
Iran had argued that all post-JCPOA sanctions should be lifted. “The ICJ refused to go this far,” noted Scott Anderson, a governance studies fellow at the Brookings, “and instead found that only certain humanitarian goods and services are ‘plausibly’ covered by the treaty.”
The ICJ ruling is binding and can’t be appealed, but the court has no way to enforce it. However, it stands as another rebuke to the Trump administration over its Iran policy.
China, Russia and the European Union used this year’s United Nations General Assembly to register their unhappiness with US policy on Iran.
China’s foreign minister warned that failure of the deal could undermine nuclear non-proliferation efforts, the authority of the UN Security Council and peace and stability in “the region and the wider world.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told reporters that other world leaders expressed their support for Iran’s continued presence in the deal and disapproval of Washington for its withdrawal. “America is alone,” he pronounced.
And the EU announced earlier this month that they are considering the creation of a mechanism designed to help Iran continue trading despite US sanctions. Those strictures are set to get tighter in November when US sanctions on Iran’s energy sales go back into effect.
CNN’s Zachary Cohen, Jennifer Hansler and Lindsay Isaac contributed to this report.