A public hearing in 2006 at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, where Iran will argue its case that billions of dollars in US assets should be unfrozen

Iran to launch UN fight to release billions frozen in US

Public hearings in 2006 at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, where Iran will defend its position on the need to unfreeze billions of dollars of US assets – Copyright AFP Juan BARRETO

Jan HENNOP

On Monday, Iran is launching a legal battle before the UN’s highest court to unfreeze billions of dollars of US assets that Washington says should go to the victims of terrorist attacks blamed on Tehran.

The case, before the International Court of Justice, comes as hopes of renewing a historic deal that former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions are fading.

Tehran sued Washington in the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2016 after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a freeze on about $2 billion worth of Iranian assets, ordering the money to be handed over to survivors and relatives of the attacks the Islamic Republic is blamed for.

These included the 1983 bombing of the US Marine Barracks in Beirut, which killed 299 people, including 241 American soldiers, and the 1996 Khobar Tower bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 people.

Iran, however, said the freeze violated the 1955 Friendship Treaty with the United States, an agreement signed before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran severed relations between the countries.

Tehran argued that the United States illegally seized Iranian financial assets and the assets of Iranian companies, and since Iran’s clerical regime is facing economic hardship following the sanctions and the consumer price spike, resolving the case is critical.

In turn, Washington tried unsuccessfully to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Iran’s “unclean hands” – a reference to Tehran’s alleged support for terrorist groups – should dismiss its $2 billion asset recovery suit.

In October 2018, the US announced its withdrawal from the Friendship Treaty after the International Court of Justice in a separate case ordered Washington to lift nuclear-related sanctions on humanitarian goods for Iran.

The International Court of Justice is the highest court of the United Nations and was established after World War II to resolve disputes between member states. His rulings are binding and cannot be challenged, but he has no means to enforce them.

– Negotiations stalled –

Monday’s hearing, which U.S. officials are due to respond to on Wednesday, comes amid fading hopes for a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and the West, which would ease sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.

Former US President Donald Trump pulled out of what he called the “terrible” international nuclear deal in 2018 and began re-imposing sanctions, prompting Tehran to backtrack on its commitments under the pact, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

Negotiations have been underway in Vienna since last April to restore the agreement by re-lifting sanctions on Tehran and forcing Iran to fully comply with its obligations.

But nine days ago, European powers expressed “serious doubts” about Iran’s sincerity in seeking a nuclear deal, adding that Tehran was continuing to “escalate its nuclear program beyond any plausible civilian justification.”

The announcement by France, Germany and the UK came a day after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called Iran’s latest response to the nuclear deal a step “backward.”

EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Josep Borrell, who has coordinated the talks for the past year and a half, told AFP last week that the talks had reached a “dead end”.

The dispute with Iran includes Tehran’s insistence that the UN’s nuclear watchdog close an investigation into three undeclared sites suspected of previous nuclear work.

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