WASHINGTON (Oct. 25)
President Clinton has nullified a provision in the new U.S. budget law aimed at helping the family of an American Jewish victim of terrorism collect damages from Iran.
The provision, inserted by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in Congress’ session- ending spending bill, was intended to force the Treasury and State Departments to help American victims of state-sponsored terrorism collect damages awarded by U.S. courts.
It was specifically geared toward the case of Alisa Flatow, a 20-year-old Brandeis University student from West Orange, N.J., who was killed in a 1995 terrorist attack in the Gaza Strip.
Flatow’s family has been trying to gain access to Iranian assets in the United States ever since a U.S. judge earlier this year ordered Iran to pay the family $247.5 million for its role in bankrolling the attack.
The provision would have helped the family collect the sum by forcing the sale of three Iranian properties in Washington. But the Clinton administration has opposed the move, calling it a violation of U.S. law and treaty obligations.
“If the United States permitted attachment of diplomatic properties, then other countries could retaliate, placing our embassies and citizens overseas at grave risk. Our ability to use foreign properties as leverage in foreign policy disputes could also be undermined,” the White House said in a statement.
The bill gives the president the authority to waive the provision for national security reasons — and Clinton exercised that authority Oct. 21. But the White House also said it would help the Flatows identify other Iranian commercial assets that may be available to them.
Stephen Flatow, Alisa’s father, had a mixed reaction to Clinton’s action. He expressed disappointment at the waiver, but said he was heartened by Clinton’s promise to help identify other assets.
“We asked for that back in March and that’s when they started stonewalling us,” Flatow said of the Clinton administration, which has been seeking normalization of relations with Iran even as it has sought to punish countries that sponsor terrorism.
“I’ve been promised things in the past that have not been delivered by the administration, but never before has their promise been in writing,” Flatow said in an interview. “The ball is in the White House’s court.”
Lautenberg fired off a letter to Clinton saying he was “deeply disappointed” with the waiver and urged the administration to make good on its commitment to help the Flatow family.