America and Iran: Still Friends, According to This Little-Known Treaty

America and Iran: Still Friends, According to This Little-Known Treaty

A 1955 deal that's still in force—and still important.

The second time Iran took America to the ICJ citing the treaty was in November 1992 over U.S. attacks on Iranian oil rigs in the Persian Gulf in 1987 and 1988. The United States brought a counterclaim against Iran for “mining and other attacks on U.S.-flag or U.S.-owned vessels” in the same period.

In both instances, the court cited the 1955 Treaty of Amity and confirmed the validity of the treaty in handling the cases. The Iran-US Claims Tribunal , which handled disputes between the two countries tied to the hostage situation, has also cited the 1955 treaty in at least twenty-seven verdicts.

Neither of the two countries has ever used Clause 3 of Article XXIII of the treaty that outlines termination terms and conditions (“Either High Contracting Party may, by giving one year's written notice to the other High Contracting Party, terminate the present Treaty at the end of the initial ten-year period or at any time thereafter.”). On the contrary, they both have accepted ICJ verdicts in accordance with the terms and clauses of treaty and have cited the treaty themselves when taking the other party to court.

To this effect, and in a virtually unprecedented situation in the history of international law, two countries who have cut political ties and have been subject to unfriendly and hostile actions from each other for over four decades actually have a living Treaty of Amity in place. Based on it, they can legally challenge any violations of “friendly relations” and demand behaviors in line with international conventions.

Someday—and it doesn’t look like that day will come soon—Iran and the United States will recommence political relations. Until that day arrives, it is a great benefit that there is an agreed mechanism in place to help resolve disputes when diplomacy proves futile. We may not be witnessing the “firm and enduring peace and sincere friendship between the United States of America and Iran” that the two sides envisioned when they signed on, but the 1955 Treaty of Amity still has a role to play.


Farshad Kashani is an international law expert and international legal affairs analyst. He was also the Editor In-Chief of Iranian Diplomacy . Farshad Kashani is currently writing a book about the P5+1 and Iran's interpretation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its legal impacts on the regime's future. On Twitter: @FarKashani.

Image: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the United Nations in New York, 2016. U.S. State Department photo.