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The Hague rules US violated international law with Iran sanctions

The International Court of Justice also ruled the court has no jurisdiction over $2bn in frozen Iranian central bank assets
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian attends a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart following their talks in Moscow, on 29 March 2023 (AFP)

The International Court of Justice ruled on Thursday that the US "violated" international law by freezing some Iranian assets, ordering Washington to pay compensation for an amount to be determined in the future.

The Hague, however, rejected Iran's bid to unblock nearly $2bn in assets belonging to its central bank which were frozen by the United States over alleged terror attacks.

Iran on Thursday said the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had demonstrated the legitimacy of its position and the "illegal" behaviour of the United States.

"The verdict of the International Court of Justice handed down on March 30 shows once again the legitimacy" of Iran's positions "and the illegal behaviour of the United States," Tehran's foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ruling comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. Last week, a US contractor was killed and five American servicemen were wounded by a drone attack on a base in northeastern Syria that the US claimed was "of Iranian origin”.

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The US responded with air strikes against sites linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria, prompting Iran-backed militias to retaliate with rocket and drone attacks on US coalition targets in northeastern Syria.

Indirect talks between the US and Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal have all but collapsed. The former Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the pact in 2018 and imposed debilitating sanctions on Iran.

More recently, ties between Iran and the West have frayed over Iranian military support to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and Tehran’s violent crackdown on protestors.

The ICJ case started in 2016 with Iran alleging the US broke a 1955 friendship treaty by allowing US courts to freeze Iranian companies' assets. The US said the money was to be given in compensation to victims of terrorist attacks.

Washington told the court that its move was justified based on Iran’s alleged sponsoring of terrorism, a defence that the Hague dismissed, ruling that the decades-old treaty was still valid.

At the time of the treaty, Iran was a stalwart US regional ally. In 1979, the Islamic Republic came to power after the overthrow of the US-backed Shah and ties between the two countries were severed.

Although the court struck down Washington’s defence, it said that the court didn’t have jurisdiction over the roughly $2bn in frozen central bank assets because the friendship treaty only protected commercial enterprises. ICJ court rulings are binding under international law, but the court has no way of enforcing them.

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