Settling International Claims

February 27, 1981

Report Outline
Iran Accords in Spotlight
Authority for the Agreements
Legal and Political Tests Ahead
Special Focus

Iran Accords in Spotlight

American Ambivalence Over Hostage Deal

The accords with Iran have aroused a characteristic ambivalence in Americans. People are relieved that the 444-day hostage crisis is over, but many also feel that it was humiliating to strike a “deal” with a government that has made a mockery of international conventions. In polls taken immediately after the announcement of the agreements on Jan. 19, the Americans questioned generally approved them by roughly a 2-1 margin, but substantial numbers thought they were “dishonorable” and that the United States had given too much away.

In the minds of many Americans, misgivings about the agreements are closely linked to suspicions that Iran might refuse to abide by their terms. Could a government that condoned hostage-taking, in violation of international law, be trusted to live up to the agreements? The International Tribunal, which is to settle by binding arbitration the conflicting financial claims between Iran and the United States, seems particularly suspect to the U.S. parties that have grievances. The tribunal will, of course, include members appointed by Iran, and they may have ideas about “Islamic justice” that are strange to Westerners.

The International Tribunal bears a kinship to such established global organizations as the United Nations, which were modeled to a great extent on Anglo-American institutions. Americans have played a leading role in creating these organizations in the hope that the customs and institutions held dearest in the United States would receive universal acclaim. But when such organizations have failed to live up to idealistic expectations, or when they have come to be seen as antagonistic to material U.S. interests, Americans have been prone to turn on them in anger.

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