The United States was right to withdraw Wednesday from the antiquated Treaty of Amity with Iran just hours after the International Court of Justice foolishly ruled that America should suspend some of its economic sanctions against the Iranians based on humanitarian grounds.
That should end the United Nations court’s jurisdiction over complaints about active and pending U.S. sanctions, which Iran argued were a potential violation of a treaty that goes back to 1955 — a time when relations between the two countries were obviously vastly different.
“This is a decision, frankly, that is 39 years overdue,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
National Security Adviser John Bolton, echoing the Trump administration’s disdain for international institutions, later announced the U.S. withdrawal from optional portions of an international convention on diplomatic relations. That agreement gave the court jurisdiction over diplomatic disputes, and the Palestinian Authority had wielded it to sue the United States over the decision to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “The United States will not sit idly by,” he said, “as baseless politicized claims are brought against us.”
The move also reinforced President Donald Trump’s speech last week to the U.N. General Assembly in which he promised to never surrender U.S. sovereignty to an “unelected, unaccountable global bureaucracy.”
Iran should have expected this turn of events. In 1979, it rejected an International Court of Justice ruling that it had violated treaties on diplomatic representation when it took American diplomats hostage. There has been no semblance of “amity” between the two nations since then.
Withdrawing from the treaty may turn out to be the simplest way of dealing with Iran’s self-righteous legal challenges to the sanctions. The court had jurisdiction because all U.N. members have agreed that it can rule on disputes arising from the interpretation of treaties.
There is a controversial precedent for U.S. refusal to comply with the court’s orders, which the U.S. had largely ignored for years anyway. The International Court of Justice ruled in 1986, over U.S. arguments to the contrary, that the American government had violated international law with its covert military campaign against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. The Reagan administration rejected the court’s findings, boldly saying the court “had neither the jurisdiction nor the competence to render” them. It then vetoed Nicaragua’s attempt to get the U.N. Security Council to enforce the court’s penalties and ignored a General Assembly vote saying the U.S. should comply.
At the time, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick described the International Court of Justice as a “semi-legal, semi-juridical, semi-political body, which nations sometimes accept and sometimes don’t.”
As precedent, Ambassador Kirkpatrick could have pointed to Iran’s 1979 refusal to accept the court’s ruling that it must abide by treaties on the treatment of diplomatic personnel. The U.N. system, including the court, could not solve the U.S. crisis with Iran then. It should not be able to interfere now.