Feb. 13 (UPI) -- The International Court of Justice ruled Wednesday it has jurisdiction to consider a request by the Iranian government to thaw $2 billion worth of assets frozen by the United States for past crimes attributed to Tehran.
The ruling rejected an argument by U.S. officials that the court does not have the authority to make such a move.
Iran filed the claim in 2016 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the funds should go to victims of the past crimes, chiefly the bombing of American servicemen in Beirut, Lebanon, 36 years ago. The money is also to be paid for other crimes blamed on Iran, the high court determined.
In a formal objection to the court last October, the U.S. said the ICJ did not have jurisdiction in the matter. The court ruled Wednesday it does, and can decide at least part of the matter.
Islamic jihadists took credit for the 1983 bombing and U.S. officials also blamed Hezbollah and the Iranian regime. A total of 307 people died, including 241 American service members.
Plaintiffs had tried to collect funds from Iran's central bank, Bank Markazi, based on a 2012 U.S. law that specified assets of the bank that could satisfy the judgments.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the U.S. ruling "highway robbery," and Tehran argued it violated the Treaty of Amity between the two countries, which was signed under the former regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi before the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Rulings by the ICJ are binding and cannot be appealed. However, the court has no means to enforce judgments.
The dispute comes at a time of deteriorating U.S.-Iranian relations. President Donald Trump abandoned the multinational deal with Iran last year and imposed new sanctions, calling the Obama-era pact "defective at its core."
In a somewhat similar matter, the International Court of Justice ruled in October the United States must lift Iranian sanctions designated as humanitarian aid.