Guest Post: Ghodoosi–Comprehensive Solution to an Agreement: How the New Iran Deal Is Framed Under Iranian Law?

Guest Post: Ghodoosi–Comprehensive Solution to an Agreement: How the New Iran Deal Is Framed Under Iranian Law?

[Farshad Ghodoosi is a JSD candidate at Yale Law School.]

In continuation of the discussion about the New Iranian Deal started by Duncan Hollis, I decided to take a stab at clarifying the Iranian side of the story.  The new deal, the so-called Geneva Agreement (24 Nov. 2013) and the ensuing implementation agreement (that took effect on Jan 20th, 2014), between Iran and the 5 plus 1 group seems to be more than a joint plan of action. Practically, it attenuates some of the bites of the previous Security Council Resolutions on the Iran Nuclear Program and will create tit-for-tat commitments on both sides. Whether the agreements reached thus far create binding obligations under international law is beyond the scope of this piece and requires further details on the recent –yet unpublished – implementation agreement. However, the drafters of the agreement of Nov. 24th deftly avoided the term “agreement” and instead employed the term “comprehensive solution”.

This choice of term might have been to avoid the formalities of treaty law internationally but also domestically vis-à-vis Iran.  Naming might make a difference under Iranian Law. Generally speaking, the Iranian Constitution seeds skepticism towards international agreements and contracts in the present Iranian legal system. Article 77 declares, “international protocols, treaties, contracts and agreements should be ratified by the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis)”. The Article is very broad and all encompassing. Those hardliners unhappy about the deal in Iran’s parliament are pressing on implementing this article, stating that the agreement needs to be ratified domestically, otherwise it is void of effects. On the other hand, supporters in parliament categorize it as a “preliminary agreement” not requiring parliament approval.

I believe a preliminary agreement is still an agreement and is subject to Article 77 of the Iranian Constitution. If I were in the shoes of the supporters of the deal in the Parliament, I would emphasize the word “comprehensive solution” as it is reflected in the text. The term “comprehensive solution” is not listed in the Article 77 of the Iranian Constitution and therefore would arguably not need parliament approval.

Another hurdle for international agreements is Article 125 of the Iranian Constitution. This Article stipulates that “signing international treaties, protocols, agreements and contracts of the Iranian states with other states and also signing conventions pertaining to international organizations, subsequent to Islamic Consultative Assembly approval, is vested in the President or his legal representative.” The Council of Guardians, the body responsible for interpreting the Constitution, restricts this Article to instances where the international instrument contains “an obligation” or “a contract” (decision March 13, 1983). It handed down its decision in a situation where “a letter of intent” for cooperation was signed between Iran and India while there were doubts whether parliament had to approve it.

Despite the language in the Iranian Constitution, I believe, it is not certain that Articles 77 and 125 make the Iranian legal system a dualist system. In dualist systems, international instruments are devoid of any status in domestic law until ratified through the legislative process. I posit that the matter should be clear in the language of the Constitution. Under Article 77, however, the sanction for non-compliance with the provision is unclear. It does not mention whether non-compliance renders the international agreements ineffectual, or makes them of lower status (similar to regulations) in relation to other domestic laws. Alternatively, it could be simply a ground for impeachment or question from the President. Article 125 also seems only to vest the signing authority on the President to render the international instruments official, and not necessarily dictate their binding nature.  It might sound like a long shot, but I believe, notwithstanding the requirement of parliamentary approval, international agreements could still be invoked and enforced in Iranian domestic law—at least as a contractual agreement between parties. This interpretation makes international agreements and contracts with Iran, most of which are not ratified by parliament, valid and effective under Iranian Law.

I would like to end this post with a separate comment — the absence of any dispute resolution mechanism in the deal. It is indeed not a very smart idea to omit any form of dispute resolution mechanisms. Considering the lack of trust and the history of contention between both sides (especially Iran and the US), any minor disagreement might lead to dismantling the entire agreement and the new rapprochement (as was apparently close to happening in the implementation the Joint Action Plan). There are several potential reasons parties avoided incorporating any dispute resolution mechanism. First and foremost, they probably disliked the idea of handing over such a highly political matter to a judicial body of any sort. Another potential reason was to avoid making the agreement seem like a treaty subject to international law or otherwise a binding instrument. Nonetheless, I believe disagreements over implementing the agreement could have been vested to an arbitral body or a mediation panel at least in an advisory capacity.

Foreign Relations Law, General, National Security Law, Organizations
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Shahram Dana
Shahram Dana

Thank you Farshad for this informative piece.  I had two questions:  First, as someone not familiar with the Iranian legal culture, the fact that Article 77 uses “should” rather than “shall” would strongly favor an interpretation that Article 77 is not an imperative when it comes to domestic legal effect of an international treaty.  But this is dependent on the legal weight afforded to the distinction between “shall” and “should” in English.  Is it the same in the Iranian legal culture?  What word in  Farsi does Article 77 use?  And does that word in the original language carry similar import as “should” in English (i.e. non-essential for the purpose of legal effect)?
My 2nd question is not directly related to your post, but does bare on the general issue of security.  What is your assessment of the human rights situation in Iran?