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Iran appeals to UN top court against US block on frozen funds

Tehran argues 'Iran and Iranian state-owned companies are entitled to immunity from the jurisdiction of the US courts'
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced late on Wednesday that 'Iran has officially lodged a complaint with the international court and we will pursue our case until we get a result' (AFP)

Iran has appealed to the UN's highest court against a US Supreme Court ruling that says $2 billion in frozen Iranian assets must be paid to American victims of terror attacks blamed on Tehran, the tribunal said on Wednesday.

In its filing to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) based in The Hague on Tuesday, Tehran argues "Iran and Iranian state-owned companies are entitled to immunity from the jurisdiction of the US courts," the tribunal said in a statement.

The US Supreme Court ruled in April that Iran must hand over nearly $2bn in frozen assets to survivors and relatives of those killed in attacks blamed on the Islamic Republic.

These included the 1983 bombing of a US Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.

In a six-two ruling, the court upheld a 2012 federal law over the distribution of Iranian bank assets, finding that the US Congress had not usurped the authority of lower courts in passing the legislation.

More than 1,000 Americans are affected by the decision. In the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, 241 US Marines were killed.

US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the court, which rejected efforts by Iran's central bank to stop the claim. 

Iran's Bank Markazi complained that Congress was intruding in the business of federal courts when it passed a 2012 law that specifically directs that the banks' assets in the US are turned over to the families.

The law, Ginsburg wrote, "does not transgress restraints placed on Congress and the president by the Constitution".

Tehran, which signed a landmark nuclear deal last year with world powers leading to the unblocking of other frozen funds, has reacted angrily to the Supreme Court ruling.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced late on Wednesday that "Iran has officially lodged a complaint with the international court and we will pursue our case until we get a result".

"The American courts have illegally decided that these funds must be given to Americans and the families of victims killed in Lebanon," he said, quoted by Iranian media.

"It remains unclear what these Americans were doing in Lebanon, and how this affair concerns Iran."

In its filing to the ICJ, the Islamic Republic argues that the legal proceedings underway in the US breach the terms of a 1955 bilateral treaty of amity, economic relations and consular rights signed with the United States.

It further calls for the United States "to make full reparations to Iran for the violation of its international legal obligations in an amount to be determined by the court at a subsequent stage of the proceedings".

Sanctions relief 'too slow'

After more than a decade of being seen by many in the West as an international pariah, Iran took a step back onto the world stage in July 2015 when after years of tough and protracted negotiations it struck a landmark deal in Vienna to rein in its suspect nuclear programme.

In return for the scaling down of its nuclear activities, crippling UN and Western sanctions were lifted, including oil exports.

Iran however has complained that major powers have been slow to implement their side of the bargain, with badly needed foreign investment into the country proving slower than hoped.

The United States has also maintained its sanctions targeting Tehran's alleged sponsorship of armed movements in the Middle East, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, and its ballistic missile programme.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on 21 May called on Washington to take "more serious and concrete actions" to alleviate the situation.

The UN court, which recently marked its 70th anniversary, will now have to decide whether it has jurisdiction to rule in the case.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has meanwhile warned candidates in the US presidential election against questioning the Islamic Republic's nuclear deal.

"We do not violate the nuclear accord ... candidates in the American presidential election are threatening to tear up the nuclear deal. If they do so, we will burn it," he told visiting dignitaries, his website said on Tuesday.