It was at the Peace Palace that the United States and Nicaragua took off the gloves. The US, said Nicaraguan Ambassador Carlos Arguello Gomez, had committed ''savage, brutal acts'' and ''flagrantly violated international law'' by backing Nicaraguan rebels based in neighboring Central American countries.
US State Department lawyer Davis R. Robinson replied: ''The approach of Nicaragua to these proceedings has raised grave doubts about its objectives in initiating the case.''
It was, in fact, a bizarre scene.
For two days last week, the US and Nicaragua fired the opening salvos in a court battle that could last weeks. Yet the US, for the first time in the 39 -year history of the International Court of Justice (also known as the World Court), had announced earlier this month that it would not accept the court's jurisdiction in cases involving Central America for the next two years.
It is not only extremely bad public relations to reject the opinion of the World Court, a United Nations body, said a lawyer based here. It also puts the US in the same light as Iran and the USSR. Neither of those countries has recognized the compulsory jurisdiction of the court.
Nicaragua filed a complaint with the court April 9, saying the US was using military force against the country and intervening in Nicaragua's internal affairs. . . . It called on the court to order the US to immediately cease and desist from providing directly or indirectly any support . . . to any nation, group, organization, movement or individual engaged or planning to engage in military or paramilitary activities against Nicaragua.
For its part, the US said it didn't want to get caught up in a propaganda battle with Nicaragua and flatly refused to play ball in the International Court. Like it or not, however, as the international press has descended on the sleepy Dutch capital en masse, Nicaragua stands to reap considerable propaganda mileage from the happenings here.
Among the weapons hauled out by Nicaragua's Arguello, a Harvard-trained lawyer, were documents allegedly showing US military complicity in efforts to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, including statements by President Ronald Reagan and a letter from Sen. Barry Goldwater to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) citing Mr. Reagan's personal permission to the organization to help lay mines in Nicaraguan waters. Mr. Arguello also said he will be producing, over the next few weeks, a precise evaluation of the damages done by the US to his country's person, property, and economy. Nicaragua wants the court to say the US has an obligation to pay compensation.
US lawyer Robinson, speaking to the court's panel of 15 UN-elected judges Friday, argued in often-passionate language that the court, in fact, does not have jurisdiction in this case because Nicaragua never formally accepted the court's compulsory jurisdiction.
''All of our investigations,'' Robinson said, ''have revealed evidence directly to the contrary.'' He said that Nicaragua's complaint before the court ''can only be viewed as politically motivated.''
The US also argued that the World Court is not ''institutionally designed'' to solve ''the regional conflict that is tragically engulfing Central America.''
Most lawyers interviewed here supported that view, pointing out that the UN General Assembly, for example, was the more appropriate forum to consider such broad political and military matters.
Officials here said the judges could rule as early as next week on whether the Court has juridiction in the case. If their opinion is positive, the deliberations over who is right and who is wrong could take weeks.