Interview by: Karim Sharara*

On the anniversary of the takeover of the U.S Embassy by Iranian Students on November 4th, 1979, conducted an interview with Professor Francis Boyle, who is a professor of International Law at the University Of Illinois College Of Law. We asked Professor Boyle on his take as a Professor of Law to provide his insight on the takeover of the U.S Embassy, and current US – Iran relations.

Prof. Boyle serves as counsel for Bosnia and Herzegovina and to the Provisional Government of the Palestinian Authority. From 1991-92, Boyle served as Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations. He also served on the Board of Directors of Amnesty International, as a consultant to the American Friends Service Committee, and on the Advisory Board for the Council for Responsible Genetics. He drafted the U.S. domestic implementing legislation for the Biological Weapons Convention, known as the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989. He is a harsh critic of US foreign policy, and Israel and the Zionist movement. He was also on the board of Amnesty International in the late ‘80s to early ‘90s, and says that Amnesty International USA’s agenda fits the political needs of the US.

Karim Sharara: What do you think motivated the Iranian students in 1979, given Iranian history with the US, to overtake the US embassy in Tehran?


Prof. Boyle: Assalam Alaikum and thank you for having me on, please give my best personal regards to Ayatollah Khamenei. Well of course I wasn’t there and I can’t say what precisely motivated the Iranian students. But what I can say is this, that when the United States sued Iran at the world court after all of this, I think Iran should have showed up and argued its right of self-defense under article 51 of the United Nations charter, and also filed a counter-claim against the United States for the CIA overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mosaddegh in 1953, and then installing its puppet dictator, the Shah and the SAVAK – that was created by the United States – inflicting all these hideous atrocities against the Iranian people until overthrown in the Islamic Revolution led by his holiness Ayatollah Khomeini…

I believe, and I have published an article on this in Iran, based on publications I’ve done over here, that the Iranian students had good grounds to believe that there was a counter-coup ordered by the Carter administration under the National Security Advisor Brzezinski. I went through the same PhD program at Harvard that produced Brzezinski before me (he’s a total Machiavellian). I believe that they were using this embassy to plot and plan a counter-coup against the Islamic Revolution. Indeed that’s why they sent General Huyser over there: they believed there were still people in the military who were, I won’t say loyal to the Shah, but more loyal to the Americans than to the Islamic Republic, that would support a Carter coup, and that they were going to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a state, reverse it, and put into power a puppet dictator like the Shah.

Now as you know that Shah, back then, had been suffering from cancer, so I don’t think the Americans would’ve put him back in power, they would’ve found another flunky, maybe the little Shah, and put him in power. But when Carter permitted the Shah to enter the United States on the bogus grounds of medical treatment – that was baloney the Shah could have gotten treatment elsewhere – as we know that catalyzed the fear of the Iranian students that the Americans were going to mount a clearly-illegal counter-coup against the Islamic Republic, and put another puppet dictator like the Shah or his son back in power. This is exactly what the Americans had done in 1953, and they were going to do it all over again, and that is why I believe if Iran had gone to the world court in that lawsuit, it could have filed a counter-claim against the Americans and say: “You’re just doing this all over again against us, and therefore we’re submitting a counter-claim for the overthrow of Mosaddegh, the installation of the Shah, your puppet dictator, and all the horrendous human rights atrocities that you, your Shah, and your SAVAK have inflicted upon us.”

I think that would have been a way to raise all these claims in a legal context and then to argue that the right of self-defense under Article 51 took precedence over the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations that the Americans were using as the basis of that lawsuit and then the counter-claim related directly to it – which I believe the world court would have heard – that they were just trying to do again what they did to Mosaddegh, and that was a democratically elected government, a parliament, the Iranians had that. It was secular, bourgeois, it was not Islamic, but it was still legitimate, and the Americans had no right to overthrow that government, and they also had no right to try to overthrow the Islamic Republic and it’s clear the embassy was being used for that purpose. So I think a good argument can be made on the basis of self-defense, and the UN charter makes it very clear that in the event of a conflict between the terms of the UN charter and any other treaty, the charter prevails.

However I’m not criticizing anyone in Iran, obviously there was enormous turmoil over there. I wasn’t there, but just reading the reports: you’re in an immediate post-revolutionary situation, and your foremost enemy is trying to overthrow your revolution, so I’m certainly not criticizing any decisions made at that time, but the case could have been made. In my writings going back to then that is actually the case I made.

What about mainstream media in the US and its coverage of the embassy takeover? What about the coverage of other key points, like the reasons behind the takeover?

The mainstream media in the United States are controlled and dominated by Zionists. They are not going to permit that your perspective be presented here for the American people. That’s just a problem you have, it’s not going to happen […] the Palestinians are in the exact same position. Eventually the Palestinians just gave up on US media because they’re hopeless […] I don’t think realistically speaking there’s much you can do with mainstream media. You saw how they vilified President Ahmadinejad, it was a disgrace. He was a Head of State. I don’t even know why his advisors permitted President Ahmadinejad to be subjected to this type of abuse by media and other sources here in the United States; especially at Columbia. He is the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and I don’t know how anyone could let him come over here and be publicly abused, and the Islamic Republic itself was abused in this way. I would just say that the media won’t help you here, and they’ll continue to vilify him.

The human rights organizations, they’re all anti-Iranian, I’ve been on the Board of Directors of Amnesty International USA for four years. All these so-called human rights organizations and NGOs, they operate on the principle “He who pays for the piper calls the tune”; who pays for them? They go along with this vilification of Iran as well; they’re not going to help you either.

As I said you’re between a rock and a hard place and you’re going to have to figure out a way to get yourself out of this.

Do you think going to the World Court against the US, back during the beginning of the Revolution, would have yielded any results?

Oh sure! Iran would have been in there, in the world court, in front of the entire world, condemning the United States for the CIA coup against Iran that overthrew the bourgeois democratically elected Mosaddegh government, the installation of the Shah, and the creation of the SAVAK, because as we know the Americans created SAVAK, it was [General Norman] Schwarzkopf’s SAVAK.

Yes, you could have educated the entire world there at the World Court, in those proceedings.

But what results would it have yielded?

Well we could have gotten a condemnation by the World Court and make a request for reparation, sure! But that moment has passed. I don’t really see it re-emerging at this point.

Ayatollah Khamenei actually had a speech recently, in which he said that the volumes retrieved from the embassy, and assembled from shredded documents, revealing the espionage and operations conducted from the embassy, would amount to 70 volumes in print, and that they must be circulated in universities so that the youth can learn the full truth. What’s your take on that?


Well I have read of the materials that the students carefully assembled from the shredded documents. But all those documents would’ve supported the claim in front of the world court that the students were acting in self-defense of the Islamic Republic, which trumps any obligations under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations.

I have to admit I haven’t read these volumes [because they’re unavailable in the US], just accounts of what’s in there. But my understanding is that these volumes verify even the reports at the time that the embassy was being used for the purpose of launching a coup d’état against the Islamic Republic along the lines of what they had done successfully in 1953.

*You can download textbooks in PDF format at the end of the interview.

Do you think international organizations independent enough to prosecute the United States for its crimes against Iran which include: the 1953 coup, supporting Iranian dictator Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, provoking and supporting Saddam in his 1988 war against Iran, delisting the MEK terrorist group which has assassinated over 17 thousand Iranians, shooting down Iran Air Flight 655 passenger plane, and dozens of other atrocities US committed against Iran?

As I said, I think if Iran had appeared at the World Court back at the time of the hostage crisis, Iran could have submitted a counter-claim to deal with the 1953 coup d’état against the Mosaddegh government, and the installation of the Shah and all the atrocities from 1953 until the installation of the Islamic Republic until the 2nd attempt to overthrow the Islamic Republic under Carter and Brzezinski. I think it could have been done at that time. Right now, it is a question of jurisdiction. We would need a treaty that would give Iran access to the International Court of Justice on all these issues that you mentioned – so without going into a comprehensive analysis – and right now I don’t see that treaty. There could be developments in the future whereby Iran could make claims at the World Court, for example on this whole nuclear issue.

I have given many interviews in Iran recommending that this whole matter be taken into the International Court of Justice, and have done a memorandum at the request of Iranian lawyers on how this could be done. As a result of these interviews I was asked by people in the Iranian Ministry of Culture to send a request to his holiness Ayatollah Khamenei to discuss this proposal […] He got my proposal, President Ahmadinejad got my proposal, and President Rohani got my proposal, but they decided not to implement my proposal. But again, you have a democratically elected government over there; I’m an American and I’m just a lawyer; I can give advice on these matters, but your government has to decide what to do.

Certainly if the Americans do stab Iran in the back by invoking the “Snapback” provision at the Security Council, I’d be willing to come over there and discuss things with Ayatollah Khamenei and see what, if any, steps we could take at the International Court of Justice over that, as well as the threat of attack upon the Islamic Republic by the United States and Israel. I had, in my proposal, recommended that we sue Israel as well. But as of now, these issues are moot, and let’s hope they stay that way, that in a new administration we’ll see further development of good relations between the Islamic Republic and the United States (that’s always what I’ve wanted to see), but whether this is going to happen I certainly can’t predict.

Mr. Trump has made all these statements, and I don’t think he’s read the agreement. Maybe if he sits down and talks to people who have and understand what’s going on, he’ll go on with it. As for Mrs. Clinton right now she supports it, so we have to hope and pray to Allah that good relations improve between the United States and the Islamic Republic. That’s certainly what I want to see and I want to work towards that objective…

Where do you see things going in a new administration then if either candidate wins? Will things be any different in foreign policy?

I guess we have to take Mrs. Clinton at her word that she supports the JCPOA. As for Trump, he rejects it but I don’t think either he or any of his advisors have read or understand what it means. I regret to say the United States certainly got the better bargain there. These were extremely complicated documents drawn up in English by American lawyers, and I don’t really think you had someone there on your delegation that could properly advise you on them, but there they are.

So we’ll just have to see and hope that things go forward, but it’s a very volatile situation here in the United States, and as you know in the Middle East  especially Syria, the Islamic Republic supports the government of Syria. Syria has asked you to help defend them. Syria has the perfect right to do that under UN Charter Article 51’s right of collective self-defense, and that is what the Islamic Republic is doing. They’ve also invited Russia to defend them. The other states there, the United States, Britain, Australia, France, and Turkey; they’re all committing aggression against Syria. Turkey has now illegally invaded Syria, so it’s a very dangerous situation and it could all blow up if things keep going the way they are.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the work done by the Leveretts [Flynt and Hillary Mann] in the past…

I’ve read their work yes. The Leverett Book [Going to Tehran] is as fair an analysis of Iran that you’re going to get here in the United States. I’ve studied Iranian civilization, culture, and history in college, but most of what is published here in the United States on Iran is just total anti-Iranian anti-Muslim propaganda, there’s a warmongering propaganda. But I would say the Leveretts are an exception to that – doesn’t mean that I agree with everything they say – but at least they do make an attempt yes.

Well they posit that just as relations between the United States and China changed in the 70s in favor of mutual economic gains, the case can be argued for the same in Iran. Do you think there’s any possibility of that now? Because as you know the book was published a few years back…

Of course there has always been the potential for rapprochement … [and Iran has] made offers to resolve the sources of disagreement, and his holiness the Ayatollah has given them [the democratically elected government] his support. The problem is over here, that […] the United States government, certainly the executive branch, is dominated by Zionists. The Obama administration, the Department of Treasury that supervises the sanctions against Iran, they’re all Zionists there. The Congress is dominated by Zionists, all up and down. That’s our main problem here, the Zionist Lobby is the main problem here, and the power of this lobby is against you. Whether that can be broken I don’t know, I really can’t say.

Would the case of economic détente change a few minds? Because the case hasn’t been very well represented in Congress due to the Zionist and Saudi lobbies…

Well the Saudis are against you too, but it’s the Zionists that have all the power and they do work with the Saudis. But you have to understand…I know that your negotiators at the JCPOA were hoping that economic factors would lead to détente and that the Americans were so greedy that they wanted to make money. But those economic considerations do not deter Zionists. They don’t care. And indeed as you know this hostility against Iran has cost the United States billions of dollars in lost trade, oil; they don’t care, they don’t care about money.

I believe that your team there figured the economics would entice the Americans, but the Zionists don’t care about the money, it’s that simple. So that’s where we are now today, I just don’t think the economics are going to do it. But again that was the calculation made on behalf of your government. It’s a democratically elected government and I have to respect their decision.

What do you think about the prospects of the JCPOA with Europe?

Well as you know, your negotiating team was also hoping that the JCPOA would help with Europe, and Europe would like to, but the problem is that the United States imposes its sanctions extraterritorially on Europe and is interfering with the ability of Europe to do business with Iran. As you can see there’s not much business going on between Europe and Iran. There’s some. But not the flood gates opening that I believe your negotiating team expected to have. It is in the power of the United States government to intimidate even Europeans from doing substantial amounts of business with Iran. Maybe as time goes on the Europeans will have the guts to stand up but so far I haven’t really seen it.

In Ayatollah Khamenei’s most recent speech, he actually said that although the negotiating team worked hard, and must be commended for their hard work, they themselves have said that the US didn’t live up to its agreements…

It certainly has not, and what the Ayatollah said is true, and they have also made it impossible or extremely difficult for Europe to do anything either. They’re sort of jerking you around here. They want to keep you on a leash, and [the idea is that] they might throw you a bone here or there, but you’re not going to get all these massive economic benefits that you’ve expected. Also at some point in the future they might decide to do the “snapback” and stab you in the back. So this is what faces the Islamic Republic now, how to deal with the situation.

*Karim Sharara is a freelance journalist, and an Iranian Studies PhD candidate at the University of Tehran.


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