By Sebastian Bates
Sebastian Bates is a first-year law student at Keble College, Oxford University.
As the month of March drew to a close, the eyes of the world turned towards Lausanne, Switzerland, where negotiations to draft an accord that would limit the Iranian nuclear program were extended. Reports claimed that the atmosphere of the talks had been tense – France had been become increasingly hawkish and the Iranian representatives ever-more intransigent as the March 31st deadline came and went. However, the talks were not without an element of collegiality. Both the American Secretary of Energy, Ernest J. Moniz, and the senior Iranian nuclear scientist, Ali Akbar Salehi, spent time teaching or studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and apparently developed a good rapport.
No such warmth existed the last time the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States of America met for such widely‐publicized diplomatic talks. In 1980, then‐Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher led a delegation to Algiers to “resolve the crisis in relations” between the two countries “arising out of the November 1979 hostage crisis.”  On January 19, 1981, this delegation and its Iranian counterpart signed the Algiers Accords, which established the Iran‐United States Claims Tribunal.  The Accords assigned the Tribunal “the enormous task of adjudicating disputes involving billions of dollars in commercial debts, breached contracts, nationalizations, expropriations and other measures affecting property rights.” 
On occasion, the tumult of the Tribunal’s origin seems to resurface as tensions boil over. For instance, while reports in the first year of its existence claimed that there “exist[ed] a friendly atmosphere on the Tribunal which facilitate[d] its work,” a “great sense of frustration” soon developed due to the Tribunal’s slow pace.  In 1984, the air of frustration inspired physical violence when two Iranian arbitrators, Mahmoud Kashani and Shafei Shafeiei, “grabbed” their Swedish colleague Nils Mangård’s collar and “pummeled [him] on the back.”  Judge Kashani went on to threaten that “[i]f Mangård ever dares to enter the tribunal chamber again, either his corpse or my corpse will leave it rolling down the stairs.” 
Despite the context in which it was created, coupled with its acrimonious beginnings in The Hague, the Tribunal has managed to weather all controversies thus far. Now, over thirty years later, it remains an active body – rather surprisingly, in light of the fact that “[c]laims had to be filed with the Tribunal by 19 January 1982, and their number is therefore finite.”  Its structure remains unchanged: it is made up of three Iranian arbitrators, three American arbitrators, and three arbitrators from other countries.  The six arbitrators from the US and Iran choose the three third‐country arbitrators, one of whom they select to act as the President of the Tribunal.  If the six original arbitrators cannot agree on the appointment of third‐country arbitrators or of the President, then the Secretary-General of the Permanent Court of Arbitration may engage an Appointing Authority to fill the vacancies.  Cases are generally heard by a Chamber comprised of one Iranian arbitrator, one American arbitrator, and a third‐country arbitrator acting as Chairman. In cases of particular importance, or in which the United States and Iran are parties, the Full Chamber of all nine Tribunal members will sit in judgment. 
According to reports, “[t]he Tribunal's Iranian judges passionately advance Iran's positions in virtually every Tribunal case,” and the American judges also occasionally engage in such “gamesmanship.” Consequently, the third‐country arbitrators play a vital role in ensuring the fairness of the Tribunal’s judgments, which cannot be appealed (though they may be amended by the Tribunal itself).  In addition to the possibility of partiality, the fact that all “private claims relating to the seizure and detention of the American hostages or the occupation of the American Embassy in Tehran are excluded” from hearings under the Algiers Accord continues to spark controversy. 
Nevertheless, the Tribunal has been recognized by many as “the most significant arbitral body in history; its awards, a gold mine of information for perceptive lawyers.”  It represents “one of the most ambitious and complex international claims adjudication programs ever undertaken,” and is consequently an important source of insight into the arbitral process.  (It also happens to be “the first mixed claims commission in which the United States has participated since World War II.” ) The Tribunal’s major achievement is generally seen to be the “the establishment of [its] rules” based on those of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law.  There is great significance to having a “substantial body of case law interpreting, applying, and even supplementing” the UNICTRAL rules.  It is important to note that the Tribunal has somewhat adapted UNICTRAL’s rules, which were drafted with only a single case in mind.  However, these were only “slightly modified,” so that the “interpretations and applications” of the rules by the Tribunal remain broadly relevant. Even the alterations may “amount to improvements or clarifications,” meriting widespread adoption.  Some arbitrators, however, believe that the “decisions of the Tribunal, although on point, [are] not persuasive because the Tribunal, after all, involves a special type of arbitration” in light of its unique and tumultuous history.  However, this view is not widely held.
Alongside the example set by the diplomats in Lausanne, the success of the Iran‐United States Claims Tribunal in the decades since the Algiers Accord is important for students of international law, and particularly international arbitration, to consider. Despite its slow pace and intermittent internal conflict, the Tribunal has provided a forum in which disputes between Iran, the United States, and nationals of both countries may be resolved peacefully. In addition, it has provided a valuable body of case law that shall remain relevant long after the final case is heard and the Tribunal itself is dissolved. The liberation of the American diplomats held in Tehran has traditionally been seen as a great achievement of the era. It is time for the Tribunal, too, to be seen as a great triumph.
 Iran‐United States Claims Arbitration Tribunal, “About the Tribunal,” https://www.iusct.net/Pages/Public/A‐About.aspx
 Davis R. Robinson, “Recent Development at the Iran‐United States Claims Tribunal,” 17 The International Lawyer 661.
 Arthur Rovine, “Remarks on the Iran‐United States Claims Tribunal,” 76 Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law 1, 5.
 Nicholas D. Kristof, “A Slow Pace for Iran Claims,” New York Times, November 14, 1984.
 UPI, “Around the World: Iranian Judge Threatens a Swede at The Hague,” New York Times, September 7, 1984
 “About the Tribunal.”
 Jamison M. Selby, “State Responsibility and the Iran‐United States Claims Tribunal,” 83 Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law 240.
 City of The Hague, ‘The Iran-United States Claims Tribunal’ (City of The Hague: The Hague, 2008), 2.
 Charles N. Brower and Jason D. Brueschke, The Iran-United States Claims Tribunal (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: The Hague, 1998), 154.
 City of The Hague, Tribunal, 2.
 Nancy Amoury Combs, “Profile: Judge George H. Aldrich,” http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/facpubs/35.
 S.H. Amin, “Iran‐United States Claims Settlement,” 32 The International and Comparative Law Quarterly 750.
 David D. Caron, “The Nature of the Iran‐United States Claims Tribunal and the Evolving Structure of International Dispute Resolution,” 84 The American Journal of International Law 104 (internal citations omitted).
 Robinson, “Recent Developments,” 661.
 Ibid at 662.
 Rovine, “Remarks,” 1.
 Brower and Brueschke, Tribunal, 19.
 Rrovine, “Remarks,” 1.
 Brower and Brueschke, Tribunal, 19.
 Caron, “Nature,” 104.
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