Earlier today Iran's parliament approved a bill that begins legal action against the United States over its involvement in the 1953 coup. This follows the recent release of newly declassified documents that verify that the CIA orchestrated the overthrow of democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh exactly 60 years ago. However, although the CIA have certainly been severely criticized for their questionable activity, Iran will likely find the lawsuit to be an unfruitful waste of parliamentary time and energy.
Unless the prosecutors representing the government of Iran can find a legitimate form of retribution that the United States would be able to repay, they may find themselves facing a harder battle than expected. Over the next six months, Iran has called for its own committee to study the CIA coup, called Operation TPAJAX. Their formal report will mark the officially launch of legal action against the U.S. in an international court.
That being said, Iran does have its fair share of fervent political support. On live statewide radio, 167 of Iran's 196 parliamentary legislators voted in favor of the bill, while a mere five opposed it. Lawmaker Mahdi Mousavinejad stated that "America's oppressive behavior shows that the Iranian nation has to stand up and pursue its trampled rights," calling for the United States to stand up and take responsibility for its actions.
Because of the still-raw political trauma caused by the coup, many rightly feel this is an issue that should be faced on an international stage in light of this new information. The forcible removal of Mossadegh and his replacement by a U.S.-friendly regime under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi created decades of lasting effects . It even resulted in the U.S. cutting off diplomatic relations with Iran when students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran in protest of Washington's refusal to hand over the toppled shah back to Iran for criminal trial. The country's people are still recovering from that political nightmare today.
Iranian lawmakers argue that the freshly recovered documents only prove that the U.S. has a history of bad intentions towards Iran and that the admission was sufficient evidence to get compensation. While this may lead to an open trial, the likelihood of receiving notable returns from the United States is slim to none, especially when considering its non-history of awarding reparations and the two countries' current tensions over uncertain nuclear development.
Mohammad Mahdi Rahbari, an opponent to the bill, arguably sees the realistic future behind legal action: that it will not bring anything tangible for Iran. "Pursuing this bill has no benefits for our country. It will waste the parliament's time."
Abbas Milani agrees. "Clearly this is more political theater than international jurisprudence," said director of Iranian studies at Stanford University. "The idea that, precisely at this time when the new government is trying to improve relations, that they would raise the issue of potential damages — it just opens a Pandora's box." In particular, the U.S. could counterclaim for damages inflicted by the 1979-81 hostage crisis and asset seizures following the Islamic Revolution.
"I don't think this lawsuit is going to go anywhere other than to end up as an empty gesture by frustrated members of the conservative camp that have lost an election badly and are reeling from the fact that people have said a resounding no to their policies," Milani said.
Because of the unlikely progress the lawsuit would make, newly inaugurated President Hassan Rouhani himself may end up avoiding the issue entirely, following his promise of repairing the diplomatic status between his country and the West.