The US government is to front more than 213 million dollars for eight families who have won court judgments against Iran, the Washington Post reported Sunday.
In a ground-breaking move, the US Treasury will pay the families money awarded from lawsuits against Tehran, the first time that foreign countries will pay damages under a 1996 anti-terrorism law.
The Clinton administration and US Congress agreed to put up the money with the expectation that the United States would be able to get it back either through an international claims tribunal or negotiations with Iran, according to the newspaper.
"These families deserve some relief, and we are pleased that we were able ... to get it to them," said Deputy Treasury Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, who handled much of the negotiations to obtain compensation for the former hostages.
The Washington Post reported that within the next few months, former Lebanon hostage Terry Anderson is to receive 41.2 million dollars in compensation under the same scheme. The family of slain Marine Colonel William Higgins will receive 55.4 million.
Iran was believed to be behind the kidnappings of all 18 US citizens taken hostage during Lebanon's civil war in the 1980s. Anderson, 52, was held captive the longest, from March 1985 until December 1991.
Higgins was taken captive in 1988 and killed 18 months later while on a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. A videotape of his body, hanging by the neck, was one of the most gruesome images of the war.
The US decision to pay damages to the kidnap victims is the result of a lawsuit brought last year by former hostage Terry Anderson against the Iranian government seeking damages for his 2,454 days of captivity.
"When I first filed the suit, it had more to do with what I thought would be just than with whether I thought I would win," Anderson told the Washington Post.
Washington said that it would use more than 400 million dollars in Iranian assets still frozen in the United States as leverage. The Clinton administration said it could not automatically turn over those funds to the victims because they are tied up in litigation in The Hague.
A similar approach will soon be used to compensate families of Mario de la Pena, Armando Alejandre and Carlos Costa, whose "Brothers to the Rescue" planes were shot down by Cuba over the Florida straits in 1996.
Relatives of the three men are to receive 49.9 million dollars in compensatory damages from frozen Cuban assets, the Washington Post said.
Another lawsuit has been filed against Libya on behalf of the victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, the newspaper added.
An official at the Iranian mission of the United Nations told the newspaper that Iran does not recognize judgments returned by US courts.
An editorial published last week in the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma said the US action encouraged "piratical attacks on our country.” – WASHINGTON (AFP)
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