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Copyright (c) 1994 Virginia Journal of International Law Association
Virginia Journal of International Law

ARTICLE: The Functions of Compromissory Clauses in U.S. Treaties

Summer, 1994

34 Va. J. Int'l L. 831


John E. Noyes *


I. Introduction

In November 1992, the Islamic Republic of Iran brought a claim against the United States of America in the International Court of Justice (ICJ or the Court). Iran has alleged that on two occasions in 1987 and 1988, U.S. Navy warships damaged Iranian offshore oil complexes that were operated for commercial purposes. According to Iran, the U.S. shellings violated articles I and X(1) of the 1955 Iran-U.S. Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights, which promise mutual peace, friendship, and freedom of commerce and navigation. 1

The Iran case presents a threshold issue of the Court's jurisdiction, which lies in contentious cases only by mutual consent of the states involved. Under article 36(1) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, consent to jurisdiction may be based on a specific treaty clause known as a compromissory clause. 2 Iran has argued that article XXI(2) of the 1955 Iran-U.S. Treaty comprises such a clause. That article reads, "any dispute between the High Contracting Parties as to the interpretation or application of the present Treaty, not satisfactorily adjusted by diplomacy, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice, unless the High Contracting Parties agree to settlement by some other pacific means." 3

The Court may well rule in favor of its jurisdiction. In 1984, when Nicaragua claimed that the United States had illegally intervened in its affairs by mining Nicaraguan harbors and supporting the contras, the Court interpreted article XXIV(2) of the 1956 Nicaragua-U.S. Friendship, Commerce ...
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