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International Court of Justice rejects Iranian bid to free assets frozen by US

US agent Richard Visek waits for judges to enter the International Court of Justice, the United Nations' top court in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday March 30.
US agent Richard Visek waits for judges to enter the International Court of Justice, the United Nations' top court in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday March 30. Copyright Peter Dejong/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Peter Dejong/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews with AP
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The International Court of Justice also found the US freeze of Iranian assets illegal and ordered Washington to remove sanctions impediments.

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The United Nation’s top court on Thursday rejected Tehran’s legal bid to free up some €1.83 billion in Iranian central bank assets frozen by US authorities to be paid in compensation to victims of a 1983 bombing in Lebanon and other attacks linked to Iran.

In a 10-5 majority ruling, the International Court of Justice said it did not have jurisdiction to rule on the Iranian claim linked to the central Markazi Bank.

The world court's vice-president, Kirill Gevorgian, said the majority “upholds the objection to jurisdiction raised by the United States of America relating to the claims of the Islamic Republic of Iran” linked to the bank.

In a complex, 67-page judgment, the world court also found that some other bids to seize Iranian assets breached the 1955 Treaty of Amity between the countries and said they should negotiate compensation because the protections it offers do not extend to central banks.

If they fail to reach a number, they will have to return to the Hague-based court for a ruling.

But the largest part of the case focused on the Markazi bank, and its frozen bonds worth €1.6 billion, plus accumulated interest, that are held in a Citibank account in New York. 

Some in Washington and Tehran voiced satisfaction at Thursday's decision.

Washington's deputy state department spokesman, Vedant Patel, said that while the US was disappointed with some aspects of the ruling it was pleased on the whole.

“Broadly we believe that today’s decision is a major blow to Iran’s case,” Patel told journalists.

An Iranian foreign ministry statement reportedly lauded the decision as “an indication of the strength and reliability of (Iran’s) demand".

It said Tehran would use “all diplomatic, legal and judiciary means" to pursue its demands.

At hearings last year, Iran cast the asset freeze as an attempt to destabilize the Tehran government and a violation of international law.

Iran took its claim to the world court in 2016 after the US Supreme Court ruled that money belonging to Iran’s central bank could be used as compensation for the 241 American troops who died in the 1983 bombing, which was believed to be linked to Tehran.

After the bombing of a US military base in Lebanon, a second blast nearby killed 58 French soldiers. 

Iran has denied involvement but a US District Court judge found Tehran responsible in 2003. The judge's ruling said Iran’s ambassador to Syria at the time called “a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and instructed him to instigate the Marine barracks bombing.”

At last year's hearings, US legal team leader Richard Visek told judges they should invoke, for the first time, a legal principle known as “unclean hands,” under which a nation can’t bring a case because of its own criminal actions linked to the case.

However, the court's ruling Thursday rejected that defence.

Iran argued the asset freeze was a breach of the Amity Treaty, which promised friendship and cooperation between the two countries. The US and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since militant students took over the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

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The judges accepted US lawyers' contentions that the frozen central bank assets were state holdings not covered by the treaty, which Washington terminated in 2018 in response to an order by the ICJ in a separate case to lift some sanctions against Iran.

The court’s judgments are final and legally binding.

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