The UN’s top court has rejected a US bid to stymie Iranian efforts to recover $2 billion in frozen assets earmarked for victims of Tehran-backed terrorism.
Tehran brought the case two months after the US Supreme Court agreed in 2016 that frozen funds from Iran’s central bank could to be used to pay families, including of 241 servicemen killed in the 1983 Marine Corps barracks bombing in Lebanon.
The US sought to have Iran’s case thrown out, arguing that its role as a sponsor of international terrorism, including of bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and plane hijackings, should disqualify it from making a claim for the money.
But the International Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday that Iran’s legal bid could continue with a hearing at a future date.
The court’s decision is likely to further anger the US which responded to an adverse ruling last year over US sanctions on humanitarian aid to Iran by pulling out of a 63-year treaty.
The 1955 Treaty of Amity, which had promised “enduring peace and sincere friendship” between the two countries, had underpinned both cases.
Iran had argued that the freezing of $2 billion of funds had been in breach of the treaty and claimed that the US illegally seized Iranian state and company assets.
The international court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, ruled that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to pull out of the treaty in October had “no effect on the jurisdiction of the court” to rule over the latest case.
The court’s 15-judge panel “unanimously finds that it has jurisdiction… to rule on the application filed by the Islamic Republic of Iran”, said presiding judge Abdulqawi Yusuf on Wednesday.
The ruling comes amid rising tensions between the two countries after Donald Trump last year reimposed sanctions on Iran after pulling out of a nuclear deal struck by his predecessor Barack Obama. The US is also seeking to increase pressure on Iran at a meeting of foreign ministers in Warsaw as the clerical regime marks 40 years since the Revolution that overthrew the Shah.
The US is facing a further challenge in the UN court from Palestinians over the move of its Israel embassy to Jerusalem. The cases are likely to sharpen dissatisfaction within the Trump administration over the role of international institutions.
The US has refused to sign up to the international criminal court which has tried high-profile defendants accused of atrocities. The hawkish national security adviser John Bolton has said that the ICC, also based in the Hague, was “dead to us”.