Fri, Feb 15, 2019 - Page 6 News List

US fails to halt Iranian bid to unfreeze billions in assets

AFP, THE HAGUE, Netherlands

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Wednesday ruled that Iran can proceed with a bid to unfreeze assets in the US, rejecting Washington’s claims that the case must be halted because of Tehran’s alleged support for international terrorism.

Washington had argued that Iran’s “unclean hands” — a reference to Tehran’s suspected backing of terror groups — should disqualify its lawsuit to recover US$2 billion in assets frozen by the US Supreme Court in 2016.

The court threw out some of the US challenges, saying that it had the right to hold full hearings at a later date as to whether Tehran would get the money back.

ICJ President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said that the UN’s top court “unanimously rejects the preliminary objections to admissibility raised by the United States of America.”

The court also “finds that it has jurisdiction” in the case, Yusuf said at the end of an hour-long reading of the decision.

However, Washington called the court’s ruling a “significant victory” for the US, because it threw out a key issue pertaining to Iran’s claims of sovereign immunity.

Tehran said that the US had illegally seized Iranian financial assets and those of Iranian companies — and with Iran’s clerical regime facing economic difficulties after sanctions and a fall in its currency, resolving the case remains crucial.

The US Supreme Court had said that Iran must give the cash to survivors and relatives of victims of attacks blamed on Tehran, including the 1983 bombing of a US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.

Iran said that the freezing of the funds breached the 1955 Treaty of Amity with the US, an agreement signed before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution severed relations between the countries.

The US in October last year announced that it was pulling out of the treaty after the ICJ in a separate case ordered Washington to lift nuclear-related sanctions on humanitarian goods for Iran.

The long-fraught relations were further strained by US President Donald Trump’s decision last year to pull out of a “terrible” international nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions.

The 2015 nuclear deal had unblocked billions of dollars in other Iranian funds.

Iran first filed the lawsuit in June 2016, accusing Washington of breaking the decades-old treaty.

Yusuf noted that at the last hearing on Iran’s funds in October, the US had argued “that Iran’s ‘unclean hands’ preclude the court from proceeding with this case.”

However, he added that “even if it were shown that [Iran’s] conduct was not beyond reproach, this would not be sufficient” on its own to throw out the case.

That the US had now pulled out of the amity treaty with Iran “has no effect on the jurisdiction of the court” and that it now needed to hold detailed hearings, Yusuf said.

In Poland this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is seeking to use a two-day conference of foreign ministers to try to rally the world behind increasing pressure on Iran and supporting Israel.

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