WASHINGTON (AP) _ The U.S. government is preparing to pay $6 million to Iran despite a claim to the money by a New Jersey couple whose daughter died in a suicide bombing blamed on Iranian terrorists.

The family of Alisa Flatow contends the White House is preventing them from carrying out an anti-terrorism law President Clinton himself signed.

The $6 million in question was the subject of a dispute between Iran and a Connecticut defense contractor, Avco Corp., one of many U.S. companies that did business with Iran in the 1970s.

Iran won a judgment against Avco at the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands. After Avco refused to pay, the tribunal ordered the U.S. government to satisfy the judgment.

That's when the Flatow family stepped in.

Alisa Flatow, a Brandeis University junior, was killed in an April 1995 bus bombing on the Gaza Strip. The Islamic Jihad terrorist group, which Israel and the United States maintain is backed by Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Stephen and Rosalyn Flatow of West Orange, N.J., sued Iran under a 1996 law allowing Americans to seek damages from nations that sponsor international terror. Iran did not contest the lawsuit, and the Flatows won a judgment for $247.5 million.

They have been trying without success to collect the money.

In their latest effort, the Flatows went to court and argued they were entitled to the $6 million the United States was preparing to send to Iran in the Avco matter. The White House opposed the effort, maintaining the funds were not eligible for such a claim.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled against the Flatows, and an appeals court concurred Thursday.

Steven Perles, attorney for the Flatow family, maintained the U.S. government would be within its rights to pay the money to the family rather than to Iran.

``This is a discretionary act by the United States,'' Perles said. ``This administration is making a conscious choice that it believes it has a higher duty to pay Iran for this award than it does to assist the Flatow family in collecting its judgment against Iran.''

The Flatows have been stymied repeatedly in their attempts to lay claim to Iranian assets still in the United States. Citing national security concerns, Clinton last year invoked a waiver blocking the collection of judgments from frozen assets.

``I'm confused by the signals the administration is sending,'' Stephen Flatow said Thursday. ``Earlier this week they put out a very strong statement criticizing Iran for its continued role as a state sponsor of terrorism. Two days later I'm back in court, and the (Clinton administration) is fighting me.''

Flatow has become increasingly critical of Clinton, saying his family sued Iran only after receiving ``very clear signals'' of support from the administration.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart has said Clinton did promise to help Flatow's family pursue Iranian assets. But Lockhart said doing so could diminish the United States' leverage with foreign governments and put ``our diplomatic property and assets at risk.''