Iran’s top judiciary has ordered the United States to pay up $130 billion in damages about a year after the United Nation’s top court ruled that President Donald Trump’s administration should ease sanctions against Tehran to ensure the continued flow of humanitarian goods.
Iranian Judiciary spokesperson Gholam Hossein Esmaeili told a press conference Tuesday that the country’s courts responded to up to 360 complaints filed by ordinary Iranian citizens who have allegedly suffered from the tight restrictions imposed on the Islamic Republic since the U.S.’ decision last year to exit a 2015 multilateral nuclear deal. He accused Washington of having committed “crimes against the nation,” according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
The spat is only the latest in a decades-long series of legal battles between the U.S. and Iran, foes since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ousted the latter’s West-backed monarchy in favor of the clerical leadership in charge today.
Such measures taken at home and abroad have often turned out to be largely symbolic as the two countries refuse to recognize unfavorable rulings, though the U.S. does have a history of paying out—but never apologizing—in response to its wrongdoing.
In 1988, toward the end of an eight-year war in which the U.S. backed Iraq against Iran, a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser shot down Iran Air Flight 655, killing 290 civilian passengers and crew, amid heightened tensions in the waters of the Persian Gulf. Washington “expressed deep regret” but never admitted legal fault and ultimately paid out up to $61.8 million in compensation for the victims’ families as part of a settlement reached in 1996 at the International Court of Justice, the Hague-based, highest U.N. judiciary body, also called the World Court.
As the U.S.’ relationship with Iran again plummeted last year with the nuclear deal pullout—a move also opposed by fellow signatories China, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom—the Trump administration also turned on the World Court. The ICJ ruled in Iran’s favor last October, ordering that the U.S. must “remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments” to Iran’s ability to access goods related to food, medicine, aviation and humanitarian services.” The ruling prompted Secretary Mike Pompeo to dismiss the outcome, accusing Iran of “abusing” the court.
In February, the ICJ again mostly ruled against the U.S. in determining that the judiciary did, in fact, have jurisdiction over another case, also based on the U.S. and Iran’s 1955 Treaty of Amity. This agreement was reached just two years after the CIA helped to orchestrate a coup to remove Iran’s prime minister and reinstall the shah and more than two decades before the Islamic Revolution, but Tehran argued the treaty still protected it from the seizure of $2 billion of assets from its central bank.
The Trump administration officially abandoned the treaty last year, but the ICJ was still set to hear the case. A U.N. press release following the decision stated that “the judges also unanimously rejected the US claim that the case was an abuse of process, and that it should be thrown out due to Tehran’s ‘unclean hands,’ the US having cited Iran’s alleged sponsorship of terrorism and alleged ambitions to develop nuclear weapons.”
The latest news on the case was a press release issued last week in which the International Court of Justice authorized a reply by Iran and rejoinder by the U.S. to be filed by August 17, 2020, and May 17, 2021, respectively.
The families of U.S. victims blaming Iran for attacks such as the 1983 bombing of U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut and the 9/11 hijackings in 2001 have also sought billions from Iran in U.S. courts, which have often awarded them the amount, though Iran has not complied. A court in Luxembourg, however, dismissed in March a claim brought up by those seeking $1.6 billion from Iran in response to the Islamic Republic having allegedly facilitated Al-Qaeda’s travel prior to the deadly operation.
In October, a set of ancient Persian artifacts previously at the University of Chicago were returned to Iran following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that denied for them to be used as payment to plaintiffs wounded or related to the injured in September 1997 suicide bombings claimed by the Sunni Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas in downtown Jerusalem.
While the Trump administration offered a sharp response last year when Iran’s charges of U.S. rule-breaking at the ICJ, the White House has been even tougher against allegations brought up by a separate judiciary, the International Criminal Court, of potential war crimes committed by U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Last September, then-national security adviser John Bolton warned the U.S. would not only ignore any investigations, but would “let the ICC die on its own” threatening to sanction and even arrest any judges probing the U.S. or its allies.
Pompeo championed this effort in August, touting how the Trump administration “stopped international courts from prosecuting our service members.” He called such an effort as “an outrage.”