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What is the significance of "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed"?

By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea

In the Geneva Accords of 24 November 2013 between Iran and 5+1 Powers regarding the nuclear case of Iran, in two parts of the text that is known as “the Joint Plan of Action” (intentionally not called accord, agreement, contract, treaty or any similar words like that), it is mentioned that “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. What is the significance of this expression and what are its legal implications?

The reference to the phrase “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” is made at the beginning and the end of the Geneva Accords of 24 November 2013. Apparently, this phrase was so noteworthy that, unlike any other statement, it needed to be mentioned twice in the text of this document. The expression appears clearly in the introduction of the text and at the end of the text it stands alone in a separate sentence to be applied to the entire text.

In the introduction of the text it said: “This comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program. This comprehensive solution would constitute an integrated whole where nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Also, at the end of the document it said: “With respect to the final step and any steps in between, the standard principle that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" applies.”

The expression of “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” is called various things in different international documents, such as “principle”, “mantra”, “Golden Rule”, and “legal principle”. In the Geneva Accords it has been called the “standard principle”.

In order to know the meaning and legal effects of this expression, the texts of numerous international documents related to the United Nations and its specialized agencies were reviewed. Here is a summary of this review about the expression and its implications:

  • Violation or failure to implement any part of the text leads to cancellation or voiding of the entire document
  • Partial agreement would be unsatisfactory.
  • The text is an integrated whole and no single part can be invoked without considering the entire document
  • Taking out any part of the document leads to rendering it as meaningless
  • The way is open for any agreement on what the document is and the text does not close the way for any kind of agreement.
  • Until such time that everything is agreed, nothing will be considered as conclusive and final
  • No action can be taken on the basis of any particular section of the document until an agreement is reached on all matters of interest.
  • Everything will remain in the initial and preliminary stage until such time when an agreement is made on the entire text or document
  • No agreement is reached on any part until the parties reach agreement on all issues and get to the satisfactory point on the whole thing
  • The formula is designed to make sure that no party to the document can focus on a part of the document that responds to its own interests or concerns and ignore the other points which are designed to respond to the concerns of others which they may consider as essential or necessary.
  • The issues are only parked in the text until later when the parties agree on them
  • The contents of the document are contingent on subsequent revisions to reach a text about all concerned issues.


In light of the above mentioned points and given that the fulfillment of the entire agreement is required before any single part of it is implemented, the practical effect of the Joint Plan of Action (Geneva Accords) is that it merely serves as an agreement for continuation of negotiations.


Bahman A Diba, PhD International Law of the Seas, is the author of several books. His latest books were published in 2011:


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