Top court rejects Iran bid for bank funds frozen in US

The International Court of Justice on Thursday rejected Iran’s bid to unblock nearly $2 billion in central bank assets frozen by the United States, but Washington ruled that the seizure of several other funds was illegal.

Judges at the UN’s top court said Washington had “violated” the rights of some Iranian individuals and companies and must compensate them, but ruled they had no jurisdiction over the bank case, which was much larger. more involved.

Both arch enemies claimed the ICJ verdict as a victory. Tehran said the decision highlighted the “illegal behavior” of the United States, while Washington said it was a “big victory”.

Iran dragged the United States to The Hague in 2016 after the US Supreme Court ruled that year that the assets should be paid to victims of attacks blamed on Tehran, including the 1983 bombing of a barracks United States Marine in Beirut.

“The court upholds by ten votes to five the objection to jurisdiction raised by the United States of America” ​​on the central bank issue, ICJ judge Kirill Gevorgian said as he read out the 66-page ruling.

The controversial judgment comes amid tensions over recent US strikes on Iran-linked groups in Syria, as well as Tehran’s nuclear program and its support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

– ‘unreasonable’ –

Tehran, which denies responsibility for the terror attacks blamed on Washington, argued that freezing the funds violated the 1955 “Treaty of Amity” between the United States and Iran.

The agreement was signed long before the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the pro-US Shah and severed ties with the United States.

Iran has requested the return of $1.75 billion of the Central Bank of Iran, or Markazi Bank, plus interest, along with assets owned by Iranian nationals and companies.

The US Supreme Court ruled that the funds should be made available to families and survivors of the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 299 people including 241 US soldiers, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 people, and other attacks.

On the main question, the ICJ ruled that there was no case to answer regarding the central bank of Iran.

He said that the bank was not included as a company, as Tehran insisted, and that only companies were protected under the decades-old contract.

But ICJ judges said Washington had breached “its obligations” under the 20-year-old US-Iran treaty, including being “unreasonable” in recognizing the legal status of some Iranian firms.

“Iran is entitled to compensation for the injury caused,” the court said.

He gave the US and Iran 24 months to agree on an amount for the payout – unless he did so himself.

– ‘Big win’ –

ICJ rulings are binding and non-appealable but have no enforcement powers.

“The verdict … once again demonstrates the legitimacy of Iran’s “position” and the illegal behavior of the United States,” Tehran’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Acting legal adviser Rich Visek of the US State Department said the court rejected “the vast majority of Iran’s case”.

“This is a major victory for the United States and for the victims of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism,” he said.

But State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said Washington was “disappointed” the court ruled the United States had violated the treaty.

“The treaty was not intended to shield Iran from having to compensate the victims of the United States’ sponsorship of terrorism,” he said.

The United States formally withdrew from the Amity Treaty in 2018 after the ICJ, in a separate case, ordered Washington to lift nuclear-related sanctions on humanitarian goods for Iran.

The judgment on frozen assets comes against a backdrop of rising tensions.

Tehran has condemned recent US airstrikes on Iranian-linked forces in Syria that killed 19 people, Washington said it carried out after a deadly drone attack on US forces on Thursday.

Meanwhile, long-running talks to revive the landmark 2015 multinational deal on Iran’s nuclear activities that the US reached in 2018 have stalled.

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