Iran will sue US over decision to give terror victims $2 billion from frozen funds
"We will soon take the case of the $2 billion to the international court," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a Tuesday speech in Kerman, southeastern Iran, as quoted by Reuters. "We will not allow the United States to swallow this money so easily."
In April, the US Supreme Court ruled that American victims of terror attacks in Beirut and Saudi Arabia were eligible to receive damages from Iranian central bank assets that had been frozen, upholding a 2012 law passed by Congress permitting the payments.
During his speech, Rouhani said Iran would “take this case to the International Court [of Justice] in the near future and will not spare any effort towards the restoration of the nation’s rights through legal, political and banking channels,” Iran’s PressTV reported.
American officials and courts linked Iran to a 1983 attack at a Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 US service members, as well as the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. About 1,000 people are listed as relatives of victims in the attacks, which the US says were carried out by the militant group Hezbollah with financial and material support from Iran.
Both Iran and Hezbollah have officially denied being responsible for the attacks, although Tehran did not file a response to plaintiffs who claimed it was responsible. When Congress approved payments from frozen Iranian assets, the case was still unfolding in federal courts and Tehran complained that lawmakers were injecting themselves into an ongoing legal process.
In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, Iran called the decision “highway robbery,” vowing to regain control of the $2 billion in frozen funds.
“The Supreme Court is the Supreme Court of the United States, not the Supreme Court of the world. We’re not under its jurisdiction, nor is our money. It is a theft. Huge theft,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the time.
The decision was also criticized by 120 member states of the UN’s Non-Aligned Movement, which said it violated US legal commitments to foreign nations’ sovereign immunity in domestic courts.
According to the New York Times, it’s not clear whether the International Court of Justice will be able to hear the case that Iran presents, since the US “withdrew its general acceptance of the court’s jurisdiction after losing a landmark case to Nicaragua in 1986 over American intervention in that country.” The 1955 Treaty of Amity between the US and Iran, though, may give the court some power to intervene.
Relations between Washington and Tehran remain contentious in the wake of a landmark agreement formed last year, under which Iran will dismantle most of its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of various international sanctions.
The latest move from Iran also comes after another US court ruled it must pay some $10 billion to families of victims who died in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Tehran has denied playing any role in the attack, though the judge issued a default judgment because the country chose not to defend itself in court.
Notably, the same judge dismissed the 9/11 case against Saudi Arabia, citing sovereign immunity laws that protect foreign nations. Saudi attorneys argued in court that no evidence directly linked their nation to the attacks.
US lawmakers are considering passing legislation that would allow countries like Saudi Arabia to be sued over terror attacks, though President Barack Obama has come out against such measures, arguing they open the US to similar lawsuits overseas.