On May 8 President Donald Trump announced that the United States will be leaving the nuclear agreement that Iran signed in July 2015 with P5+1 – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany – officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The President also announced that he will re-impose the economic sanctions against Iran that had been lifted by President Obama after the JCPOA had been signed. The first stage of the sanctions went into effect on August 6, with the second stage planned for November 6.
It is highly unusual for one administration to not abide by the provision of an international agreement signed by its predecessor. But, with the Trump administration pulling the United States out of so many international agreements and organizations, anything is possible. The U.S. has already left the Paris Agreement of climate change, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The US has withdrawn from UNSECO, the United Nations’ cultural organization, and from the UN’s Human Rights Council. Thus, leaving the JCPOA continues the patterns.
The US exit from the JCPOA is, however, illegal. When the JCPOA was signed in 2015, it was endorsed by the UN Security Council, which approved unanimously Resolution 2231 expressing its endorsement. The Resolution was filed in the framework of Chapter VII of UN Charter that deals with peace and stability in the world. According to the Charter, it is mandatory for all members of the UN to abide by the provisions of any Resolution filed under Chapter VII. Thus, not only has the US broken its promises to Iran and violated its commitment to the JCPOA, it is also in violation of its obligations toward the UN.
Then, on July 17 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced that Iran has initiated proceedings against the US, complaining that through its actions, and in particular imposition of the economic sanctions, the US has violated the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights that it signed with Iran in Teheran on 15 August 1955 and went into effect on 16 June 1957. The Treaty was signed by the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration after the Central Intelligence Agency, together with Britain’s MI6, overthrew Iran’s democratically-elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran’s national hero who is still revered in Iran, in August 1953. It was supposed to mend the relations between the US and the Iranian people. But, in reality the US supported the dictatorship of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi for 25 years, until it was toppled by the Iranian Revolution of February 1979.
In its formal complaint to the ICJ Iran charged that the US is in breach of its obligations to Iran under Articles IV (1), VII (1), VIII (1), VIII (2), IX (2) and X (1) of the Treaty. Article VI(1) states that, "Each High Contracting Party shall at all times accord fair and equitable treatment to nationals and companies of the other High Contracting Party, and to their property and enterprises; shall refrain from applying unreasonable or discriminatory measures that would impair their legally acquired rights and interests; and shall assure that their lawful contractual rights are afforded effective means of enforcement, in conformity with the applicable laws," which are clearly violated by the re-imposition of the sanctions.
Article VII(1) of the Treaty stipulates that, "Neither High Contracting Party shall apply restrictions on the making of payments, remittances, and other transfers of funds to or from the territories of the other High Contracting Party, except (a) to the extent necessary to assure the availability of foreign exchange for payments for goods and services essential to the health and welfare of its people, or (b) in the case of a member of the International Monetary Fund, restrictions specifically approved by the Fund," which is also violated by the US because it wants to cutoff Iran from the international banks and financial institutions, and did so during the Obama administration, before the JCPOA was signed.
According to Article VIII(1), "Each High Contracting Party shall accord to products of the other High Contracting Party, from whatever place and by whatever type of carrier arriving, and to products destined for exportation to the territories of such other High Contracting Party, by whatever route and by whatever type of carrier, treatment no less favorable than that accorded like products of or destined for exportation to any third country, in all matters relating to: (a) duties, other charges, regulations and formalities, on or in connection with importation and exportation; and (b) internal taxation, sale, distribution, storage and use. The same rule shall apply with respect, to the international transfer of payments for imports and exports." Since the Trump administration has banned imports of any products from Iran, including rugs and pistachios, it is in violation of this Article.
Article VIII(2) explicitly prohibits imposition of sanctions by the two particles against one another, as it declares that, "Neither High Contracting Party shall impose restrictions or prohibitions on the importation of any product of the other High Contracting Party or on the exportation of any product to the territories of the other High Contracting Party, unless the importation of the like product of, or the exportation of the like product to, all third countries is similarly restricted or prohibited." The same principle can be argued based on Article IX(2) that states that, "Nationals and companies of either High Contracting Party shall be accorded treatment no less favorable than that accorded nationals and companies of the other High Contracting Party, or of any third country, with respect to all matters relating to importation and exportation." Finally, according to Article X(1), "Between the territories of the two High Contracting Parties there shall be freedom of commerce and navigation," which the sanctions would be violating.
To be sure, this is not the only treaty with Iran that the US is violating. For years successive administrations have supported various opposition groups against Tehran. The George W. Bush administration, for example, devoted $75 million to support the opposition groups. In a recent speech in Southern California, where there is a large community of Iranian-Americans, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke about supporting the opposition groups. Rudy Giuliani, the President’s attorney, and John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, have both been paid lobbyists for the MEK, the exiled opposition group that is universally hated by the Iranian people for collaborating with the regime of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war; was listed up until 2011 by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, and assassinated several American advisers in Iran in the 1970s. Giuliani and Bolton have been fantasizing about "regime change" in Tehran, and installing the MEK as Iran’s new ruler.
All of these violate the Algiers Accord, the agreement between the US and Iran that ended the Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981. Point I, paragraph 1 of the Accord states, "Non-Intervention in Iranian Affairs – The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs."
But, Iran’s grievances do not end with violations of the two treaties, and imposition of the economic sanctions. In addition to supporting the dictatorship of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi the US sided with Saddam Hussein’s regime during its war with Iran. The US destroyed two of Iran’s offshore oil platforms in the Persian Gulf in 1987; it attacked the Iranian navy in the same year, and shoot down Iran’s passenger airliner over the Persian Gulf in July 1988, killing 290 people, including 63 children. Since 1995 the United States has prevented large-scale foreign investment in Iran’s oil and natural gas industries. The complete list of grievances is too long to be given here. As a UN member, the US is violating its obligations toward that organization and its charter by trying to topple Iran’s political system.
Ever since the 1979 Revolution, the image of Iran and its people that has been presented to the American public has been unreal and completely distorted. Iran’s population of 83 million is young, educated [Iran’s rate of literacy is 93 percent], and very well connected to the rest of the world. While Iranian people want democracy, respect for human rights, economic prosperity, and friendly relations with the rest of the world, which the Islamic Republic has failed to a large extent to deliver, they also reject outside intervention in their internal affairs. With the exception of Israel, among all the nations in the Middle East and North Africa Iranian people are the least hostile toward the US and many believe the friendliest.
So, next time when you read about Iran, remember what the US has done to that nation for the past 65 years.
Muhammad Sahimi is a professor at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. For the past two decades he has published extensively on Iran’s political developments and its nuclear program. He was a founding lead political analyst for the website PBS/Frontline: Tehran Bureau, and has also published extensively in major websites and print media. He is also the editor and publisher of Iran News and Middle East Reports and produces a weekly commentary for broadcasting that can be watched at http://www.ifttv.com/muhammad-sahimi.