ICJ rejects Iran’s bid to release assets frozen by US

The UN Supreme Court on Thursday rejected Tehran’s claim to release about 1.83 billion euros in Iranian central bank assets frozen by the US authorities to compensate the victims of the 1983 Lebanon bombing and other Iran-related attacks.

In a 10 to 5 majority ruling, the International Court of Justice said it did not have jurisdiction to rule on an Iranian lawsuit related to Markazi’s central bank.

Kirill Gevorgyan, Deputy Chief Justice of the World Court, said the majority “supports the United States of America’s objection to jurisdiction over the claims of the Islamic Republic of Iran” related to the bank.

In a complex 67-page decision, the magistrates’ court also found that some other applications for the confiscation of Iranian assets violated the 1955 Friendship Treaty between the countries and said they should negotiate compensation because the protection it offered did not extend to central banks.

If they fail to dial the number, they will have to return to the court in The Hague for a decision.

But much of the case has centered on the Markazi Bank and its €1.6 billion in frozen bonds, plus accrued interest, held in a Citibank account in New York.

Some in Washington and Tehran expressed satisfaction with Thursday’s decision.

Washington Deputy State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said that while the US is disappointed with some aspects of the decision, it is generally pleased.

“Overall, we believe that today’s decision is a major blow to the Iranian cause,” Patel told reporters.

In a statement, the Iranian Foreign Ministry reportedly praised the decision as “evidence of the strength and credibility of (Iran’s) demands.”

It says Tehran will use “all diplomatic, legal and judicial means” to comply with its demands.

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

Iran filed a lawsuit in a world court in 2016 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that money held by Iran’s central bank could be used to compensate 241 U.S. service members who died in a 1983 bombing that was thought to be related with Tehran.

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

Iran denies involvement, but in 2003 a US District Court judge convicted Tehran. The judge’s ruling said that Iran’s ambassador to Syria at the time called “a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and instructed him to instigate the bombing of the Marine barracks.”

At last year’s hearings, U.S. legal team leader Richard Wisek told judges they must invoke for the first time a legal principle known as “unclean hands” whereby a country cannot prosecute because of its own criminal acts related to the case.

However, Thursday’s court ruling dismissed that defense.

Iran argued that the asset freeze was a violation of the Friendship Treaty, which promised friendship and cooperation between the two countries. The US and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since student militants took over the US embassy in Tehran in 1979.

The judges agreed with U.S. lawyers’ contention that the frozen central bank assets were government assets not covered by a treaty that Washington terminated in 2018 in response to an International Court of Justice order in a separate case lifting some sanctions against Iran.

Court decisions are final and legally binding.