MNA – Richard Nephew, who served as the lead sanctions expert for the US team negotiating with Iran, is of the opinion that it is certainly true that US sanctions on Iran can affect the trade of humanitarian goods and the hostile licensing policy from the United States on civil aviation licenses is a complication.
The fellow at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, says, “ICJ asked for the US and Iran to avoid taking steps that would exacerbate the situation. The US would interpret this only as steps that would foreclose the kind of trade that the ICJ suggests must stay in place.”
Following is the text of the interview:
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the US to lift a part of its restrictive measures against Iran. Do you think that Trump administration will commit to respecting the vote?
This is not how I see the ICJ’s ruling. What the ICJ ruled, in my view, is that the United States needs to ensure Iran can obtain humanitarian goods as well as access to items for safety of flight. It is certainly true that sanctions can affect this trade and the hostile licensing policy from the United States on civil aviation licenses is a complication. But, the ICJ does not say that the United States must lift its sanctions. Rather, it just says that they need to accommodate this trade, as these licenses would do.
The ICJ suggested that the US avoids the implementation of forthcoming sanctions against Iran. Shall we expect the US to respect the vote?
Well, as noted above, the US would interpret the ICJ’s ruling as only ensuring there are allowances for the types of trade that are to be permitted. This is fundamentally different than stopping new sanctions, though I acknowledge the ICJ also asked for the US and Iran to avoid taking steps that would exacerbate the situation. The US would interpret this only as steps that would foreclose the kind of trade that the ICJ suggests must stay in place.
ICJ ordered the US to allow the exports of “humanitarian” goods such as food, medicines, agricultural products and aviation safety equipment. Do you think that the US will exclude these items from the sanctions?
Yes, it already has.
For the food, medicines, and agricultural products part, the US has wide-ranging licenses that would permit this trade by US and foreign companies. Though banking and shipping sanctions may complicate this, they don’t preclude this trade.
Civil aviation represents the closest-to-the-line prohibitions in the new US sanctions, in that the licensing policy is decidedly hostile to the trade. But, it is not completely forbidden and, in this way, the US will argue it has already done what it can. For this complaint to have much teeth, there would have to be a clear case of clear safety of flight licenses being denied.
According to ICJ, the US must lift the restrictions on “humanitarian” goods but as you know, on a general basis, the sanctions will place the strict limits on Iran financial transactions. What’s your opinion on this matter?
Yes, that’s the real issue here. The ICJ did not weigh in on financial sanctions or any other. Consequently, there are no real, solid arguments to be made that the ICJ ruling would require modification of those sanctions on the US part.
But, ultimately, this is why the ICJ ruling was unlikely to change anything practical with regard to sanctions imposition: the US does have sovereign right to take some of these steps even if, as I have maintained, they are ill-advised.
For its part, Iran’s real win here is that it has an international body on the record in support of some of its claims and arguments. That has political salience and may be helpful in managing foreign partnerships.
Interview by Javad Heirannia