THE HAGUE, Netherlands
(Dispatches) — Iran told the United Nation’s highest court on Monday that Washington’s confiscation of some $2 billion in assets from Iranian state bank accounts to compensate bombing victims was an attempt to destabilize the Iranian government and a violation of international law.
In 2016, Tehran filed a suit at the International Court of Justice after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled money held in Iran’s central bank could be used to compensate the 241 victims of a 1983 bombing of a U.S. military base in Lebanon.
Hearings in the case opened Monday in the Hague-based court, starting with Iran’s arguments. The proceedings will continue with opening statements by Washington on Wednesday.
At stake are $1.75 billion in bonds, plus accumulated interest, belonging to the Iranian state but held in a Citibank account in New York.
In 1983, a truck loaded with military-grade explosives hit U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 American troops and 58 French soldiers.
While Iran long has denied being involved, a U.S. District Court judge baselessly held Tehran as responsible in 2003.
The international court ruled it had jurisdiction to hear the case in 2019, rejecting an argument from the U.S. that its national security interests superseded the 1955 Treaty of Amity, which promised friendship and cooperation between the two countries.
“The freedom of navigation and commerce guaranteed by the treaty have been gravely breached,” Tavakol Habibzadeh, head of international legal affairs for Iran, told the 14-judge panel Monday.
A 2012 U.S. law ordered the bank to hand over the assets to the families of those killed in the Beirut bombing.
Habibzadeh said Monday that the U.S has created an “industry of litigation” against Iran and Iranian companies in an effort to undermine the country. The seizure was just one maneuver “aiming to destabilize Iran and the Iranian government,” Habibzadeh said.
The two countries have had no diplomatic relations since the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover by students in Tehran.
The pair have a second case pending before the ICJ over the same obscure treaty. Tehran filed an unrelated complaint with the court in 2018 after former president Donald Trump reimposed sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. In response, the U.S. withdrew from the treaty entirely.
The hearings come as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi headed on Monday to New York, where he will be speaking to the UN General Assembly later this week.