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Should the State Department Block U.S. Hostages Suing Iran?

On November 4, 1979, Iranian students answering to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. Many former hostages would like to sue Iran for the Iranian regime’s breach of international protocol. The State Department, however, is not keen on allowing such suits to proceed, often citing the Algiers Accords, which ended the hostage crisis. The agreement allowed the Iranian revolutionaries to reclaim billions of dollars in frozen assets but banned supposed U.S. interference in Iranian affairs. Gary Sick, President Carter’s point man on Iran (and the man whose early leaks, some colleagues say, about taking military force off the table amplified the hostage crisis from a 48-hour hiccup to the 15-month affair), opposes compensation and argues that the Carter team gave its word that there would be no compensation lawsuits.

It is tragic that so many American diplomats see the Algiers Accords as binding. During the Bush administration, the State Department even cited them to prevent increased Persian-language broadcasting into Iran.  The problems with honoring the Algiers Accords are many:

  • The agreements negotiated under duress; Iranian actions were illegal.
  • If memory serves, they were not signed by an Iranian government official, but rather by an Iranian banking official.
  • Most importantly, they are a sole executive agreement, not a treaty. There was no congressional role in the agreement, and so there is no congressional role needed to reverse it. Carter knew better than to send them to the Senate for ratification because the vote would have been 100-0 against succumbing to blackmail.

It is rich that the State Department bends over backwards to enforce the Algiers Accords. After all, the Iranian regime has repeatedly voided its own agreements. For example:

  • The regime promised to lift the bounty on Salman Rushdie in order to entice the British ambassador back to Iran; the next day, it re-imposed the bounty.
  • The Iranian government pledged non-interference in Iraq, but even Iranian reporters noted that the regime violated its agreements with both the United States and United Kingdom.
  • In recent weeks, regime hardliners have celebrated the hostage taking of the 1980s in Lebanon, and castigated those who sought to strike deals that might compromise Hezbollah’s paramount role.

Iranian regime officials have—by their own admissions—not negotiated sincerely. Obama’s role should be to seek justice for American citizens; not sacrifice their cause for yet one more doomed attempt to bring in from the cold Iranian hardliners whose core ideological precludes an agreement with the United States.



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