WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked President Barack Obama’s administration to weigh in on an appeal over whether Iran’s central bank must pay $1.75 billion to relatives of American troops killed in the 1983 Marine Corps barracks bombing in Lebanon.
The court said it wants the U.S. Justice Department’s views on whether the nine justices should hear the appeal filed by Bank Markazi. If the justices ultimately decline to hear Bank Markazi’s appeal, the money, currently held in a trust account, would have to be turned over to families of the victims.
It would go toward paying off a $2.65 billion U.S. court judgment the families won against Iran in 2007. The families accused Iran of providing material support to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shi’ite militant group responsible for the October 1983 truck bomb attack at the Marine compound in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. servicemen.
The high court’s action comes at a delicate time for American-Iranian relations, with the United States and other world powers last week reaching a framework agreement intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.
The legal question is whether a 2012 law passed by the U.S. Congress that specifically addressed the funds at issue in the dispute violates the U.S. Constitution by dictating the outcome of a court case. The bank also says the appeals court ruling violates a 1955 U.S.-Iran treaty.
The Supreme Court regularly asks the government for views on whether to hear cases when an issue directly affects U.S. interests. Traditionally, the court gives considerable weight to what the government says, although it varies from case to case.
The court did not set a deadline for the administration to respond.
The 2010 lawsuit was filed after the U.S. Treasury Department uncovered the funds at Citibank, part of Citigroup Inc(C.N). The Iranian central bank is appealing a July 2014 ruling by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the money held by Citibank in New York should be handed over.
President Ronald Reagan dispatched U.S. Marines in 1982 to Lebanon on a peacekeeping mission to try to stabilize the war-torn nation following an Israeli invasion. In the immediate aftermath of the attack and a near-simultaneous bombing that killed French paratroopers, Reagan vowed to keep the Marines in Lebanon but pulled them out just months later.
The case is Bank Markazi v. Peterson, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14-770.
Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham