Obama’s & Carter’s Iranian Agreements — Same Open Questions?


     Now that the new Iranian – U.S. agreements are being implemented, that resulted in the freeing of US hostages by Iran as well as settlement of various financial issues, it is instructive to look back at the President Carter’s Iranian Hostage Accords of the early 1980s. They concluded the first Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979 that resulted in the release of 52 hostages held for 444 days. Here’s an excerpt from an article of mine published, in 1982, after the first Iranian hostage crisis ……………..


The Hostage Accords with Iran were entered into by the Carter Administration in its closing days.

In exchange for the transfer of the 52 American hostages, the United States agreed to freeze the property of the former Shah, to revoke all trade sanctions with Iran, to withdraw its case from the World Court, to transfer the frozen Iranian assets out of the country, to terminate claims against Iran pending in U.S. courts, to transfer all  such claims to an international arbitral tribunal (whose decisions would be funded by an escrow account), and to terminate various claims of all hostages and related parties  against  Iran.

The Hostage Accords, their negotiation and implementation, raise questions concerning international law, constitutional law, and foreign policy. Specifically, questions arise, among others, concerning the validity of the accords under international and constitutional law, of foreign policy relating to the authority of the President, and of renouncing the Accords as  a matter of foreign policy …. [T]hese three questions have not been satisfactorily assessed, let  alone answered.

…. Agreements concluded without freely given state consent violate the national sovereignty of states, the integrity of the international legal system, and that of all law-abiding states. The enforcement of such agreements, which may not be even legally permissible under the Vienna Convention, constitutes a fraud on the world community, sets an abysmal legal and diplomatic precedent, and undermines the already weak fabric of a very diverse and divisive community of nations.


     There is a parallel between the Carter and Obama Iranian agreements dealing with their hostage crises, which are separated by more than 35 years. Certainly not a perfect parallel, but still one that leaves open the same set of questions. I suspect these questions will be looked at much more closely as we go through this election year.



About Stuart Malawer

Distinguished Service Professor of Law & International Trade at George Mason University (Schar School of Public Policy).
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