TEHRAN — Anger is building among even Iran’s staunchest defenders of the historic nuclear agreement with the United States after a recent decision by the US Supreme Court allowing relatives of victims of a 1983 bombing to sue Tehran for $2 billion in compensation from frozen Iranian funds.
On Wednesday, President Hassan Rouhani, widely seen as the executor of the nuclear agreement, lashed out against the United States, calling the ruling a “continuation of hostilities against Iran” and a “flagrant theft and a legal disgrace,” the semiofficial Iranian Student News Agency reported.
The court ruled last week that Congress did not exceed its constitutional role by enacting a law in 2012 making it easier for families of those killed in terrorist attacks to obtain compensation. The decision opens a path for more than a thousand US relatives of Marines killed in the 1983 bombing of their barracks in Beirut, an attack Iran has been held responsible for.
Iranian officials have repeatedly denied responsibility, however, and they accuse the United States of using the pretext of an attack to steal money that is rightfully theirs.
Rouhani, one of the few Iranian leaders openly committed to restoring relations with the United States, called the Americans thieves, adding that they “imagine what they have pillaged belongs to themselves.”
The bickering over the Beirut bombing is the latest chapter in a series of disagreements and misunderstandings that have led to hard feelings since the euphoric days last summer after the signing of the nuclear deal between Iran and the major powers.
Iran was expecting a bonanza in unfrozen funds and new business opportunities after sanctions that had been imposed because of the nuclear program were lifted. But the continued presence of nonnuclear sanctions has slowed the process to a crawl, and foreign banks have been afraid to lend to Iranian companies because of potential penalties imposed by the United States.
So even though Iran has received a parade of business delegations from Europe and Asia, it has been unable to sign the big deals that might help revive its battered economy. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry told a Jewish lobbying group in Washington that Iran to date had managed to retrieve only $3 billion of its frozen funds, from a total estimated at $55 billion to $100 billion.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, added to the chorus Wednesday, repeating his contention that the United States was deceitful and not to be trusted. While he had supported the nuclear deal, he insisted that the United States would try to double-cross Iran.
“America engages in tricks and practices deceit,” he said. “They write on paper that banks can cooperate with Iran, but in practice they promote Iranophobia so that no one trades with Iran.”