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Iran calls US asset seizure part of destabilization strategy 

An attorney for Tehran told the U.N.’s top court that Washington has “created an industry of litigation” against Iran and Iranian businesses.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — In opening arguments before the United Nations' high court Monday, Tehran slammed the United States for confiscating some $2 billion in state assets in what it called an effort to force a regime change.

Iran told the International Court of Justice, also called the World Court, that the seizure of billions in assets held in New York by Iran’s central bank as compensation for victims killed in a 1983 suicide bombing believed to have been orchestrated by Tehran violated a 1955 bilateral friendship treaty between the two countries. 

“The freedom of navigation and commerce guaranteed by the treaty have been gravely breached,” Tavakol Habibzadeh, Iran’s agent at The Hague-based court, told the 14-judge panel in his opening remarks. 

The Middle Eastern country brought a complaint to the ICJ in 2016, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Peterson v. Islamic Republic of Iran that Tehran had to hand over $1.75 billion in bonds held by Citibank in New York, plus accumulated interest. 

During hearings over jurisdiction in 2018, the United States argued the court should toss Iran’s complaint because national security matters fell outside of the treaty’s scope. But, the court ruled in 2019 that it had partial jurisdiction to hear the case. 

Iran says it has no involvement in the attack on military barracks in Beruit. Two suicide truck bombs struck military barracks in the early hours of Oct. 23, 1983, killing 307 people. The victims were mostly American and French military personnel serving as part of a peacekeeping mission during the Lebanese civil war.

“Iran denies that it is responsible for the injuries to those victims,” Vaughan Lowe of Essex Court Chambers argued Monday on behalf of Iran.

Relatives of the 241 American service members killed in the attack filed civil suits against Iran in 2001, with a U.S. court ultimately deciding militant group Hezbollah, backed by the Iranian government, was responsible. In 2012, Congress moved to modify legislation that would allow the relatives to take compensation from Iranian state assets held in the United States. According to Iran, it faces 138 judgments from courts in the United States, amounting to more than $100 billion in damages. 

Iran says the lawsuits are part of an effort by Washington to destabilize the regime.

“The United States has created an industry of litigation against Iran and Iranian companies,” Habibzadeh said Monday.

He listed a series of events, including the U.S. destroying Iranian oil platforms, shooting down an Iranian plane, and blaming Iran for the 9/11 attacks, which he argued were part of a larger attempt to weaken the Iranian government. 

The 1955 Treaty of Amity was part of a post-World War II charm offensive the U.S. embarked on in an effort to counteract the rising power of the Soviet Union. It guarantees that people and commerce can move freely between the two countries. 

Iran brought another complaint under the same treaty over the reinstatement of sanctions in 2018. After the ICJ ordered the U.S. to lift sanctions on humanitarian goods following an Iranian request for provisional measures, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would terminate its participation in the Treaty of Amity. The court heard arguments over jurisdiction in that case in 2020. 

Hearings will continue on Wednesday with opening statements from the United States. 

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