Circular 175 Procedure

The Circular 175 procedure refers to regulations developed by the State Department to ensure the proper exercise of the treaty-making power. Its principal objective is to make sure that the making of treaties and other international agreements for the United States is carried out within constitutional and other appropriate limits, and with appropriate involvement by the State Department. The original Circular 175 was a 1955 Department Circular prescribing a process for prior coordination and approval of treaties and international agreements. This title has been retained; the applicable procedures are now contained at 11 FAM 720 .

There are two kinds of Circular 175 requests. One calls for the approval of full powers to sign treaties that the President will send to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification. Since under international law full powers may be issued only by heads of State and Foreign Ministers, approval of full powers is not a delegable function.

The more typical Circular 175 request is an action memorandum from a bureau or office in the State Department to a Department official at the Assistant Secretary level or above, requesting authority to negotiate, conclude, amend, extend, or terminate an international agreement. The memorandum may request -

  • authority to negotiate and/or conclude;
  • authority to extend and/or amend; or
  • authority to terminate/withdraw from

an international agreement. The memorandum should set forth the issue for decision; the principal features of the proposed agreement; any special problems that may be encountered along with any contemplated solutions to those problems; and policy benefits to the United States of the requested action. It also should address whether there will be congressional consultations and whether an environmental impact assessment is needed. Where a proposed agreement involves commitments of resources beyond those authorized by approved budgets, the matter must be addressed.

The action memorandum should be accompanied by any texts to be negotiated or concluded, and generally a memorandum of law discussing thoroughly the legal bases for the agreement. Background information or additional detail may be included as attachments. The memorandum is cleared by all interested federal agencies and by relevant offices within the State Department. In certain circumstances, the Office of Treaty Affairs may conclude that a blanket authorization is appropriate where a series of agreements of the same general type are to be negotiated according to a more or less standard formula.

The thoroughness and care devoted to the Circular 175 procedure is designed to ensure -

  • that approval for the negotiation and conclusion of all international agreements is obtained at appropriate policy levels;
  • that agencies or offices having responsibility for any aspect of the subject matter involved have approved the negotiation and, prior to conclusion, the text of the agreement;
  • that any issues that might arise between the Congress and the executive, and any questions regarding the use of the treaty power, are resolved; and
  • that adequate legal authority for each treaty or executive agreement exists.

Further, the Circular 175 procedure assists the State Department in transmitting to the Congress pursuant to the Case-Zablocki Act ( 1 U.S.C. 112b) [hot link] the text of any international agreement other than a treaty to which the United States is a party as soon as practicable after such agreement has entered into force with respect to the United States but in no event later than sixty days thereafter.

The Circular 175 procedure does not apply to documents that are not binding under international law. Thus, statements of intent or documents of a political nature not intended to be legally binding are not covered by the Circular 175 procedure. The determination whether a document is or is not an international agreement must be made by the Office of the Legal Adviser at the State Department.