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U.S. military aid tied to court immunity?

Powell denies reports of pressure

Secretary of State Colin Powell cites
Secretary of State Colin Powell cites "serious concerns."  

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration said it is not using the threat of withholding military aid to pressure countries into providing U.S. peacekeepers with immunity from the International Criminal Court.

"We are not bludgeoning or threatening any of our friends. We're discussing with them our concerns about the ICC and a way of dealing with those concerns through Article 98," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday after a meeting with the Spanish foreign minister.

A provision of the treaty that created the court says that a bilateral agreement between two countries overrides the international court's jurisdiction when the court has filed charges against a peacekeeper from one of the countries stationed in the other. That provision is written in Article 98 of the treaty.

United States now is seeking Article 98 agreements with every country it has bilateral relations with -- about 175 nations -- in an attempt to circumvent the court's jurisdiction. It has already signed pacts with Romania and Israel.

But U.S. officials denied reports that the State Department called in foreign diplomats and told them nations that signed the ICC treaty could lose U.S. military aid if they do not provide immunity to U.S. peacekeepers.

Recent legislation designed to protect U.S. soldiers, passed by Congress and signed by President Bush, holds out the possibility of withholding military aid. Powell noted Congress provided the president with waiver authority, which allows him to provide military aid if he deems it in the U.S. national interest.

"It is a serious matter," Powell said. "We have serious concerns with the ICC, as everyone knows, and Article 98 is a way of dealing with those concerns, and I hope that all of our friends and allies will view Article 98 as a positive, constructive way of dealing with those concerns."

Members of the European Union -- all of whom are signatories to the treaty -- agree that, before signing any Article 98 agreements with the United States, they will discuss the issue at the body's ministerial meeting in the coming weeks.

Romania, a candidate for EU membership, was criticized by the European Commission for signing an agreement before the EU's debate on the issue.

The State Department, responding to comments made by EU Commissioner Romano Prodi that were critical of Romania, said Tuesday it is unfair for the European Union to pressure aspirant countries on the issue.

"We believe that those comments, in our view, are inappropriate in seeking to direct candidate country foreign policy choices in advance of EU accession," said deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.

Canada, Norway, Slovakia, Switzerland and Yugoslavia have already announced they will hold off on signing Article 98 agreements with the United States until they consult other governments.

In a unanimous vote July 12, the U.N. Security Council gave U.S. troops some protection from the ICC, but fell short of the blanket immunity the Bush administration had sought for American troops serving in U.N. peacekeeping missions.

In the compromise, the United States got a one-year exemption from investigations or prosecutions by the court, and the Security Council pledged to consider renewing the suspension each year.

As a result of the agreement, the United States agreed to lift its opposition to the renewal of any peacekeeping missions. In late June, the Bush administration vetoed a renewal of the Bosnian mission to force a compromise over the ICC issue.

The international court was established by treaty on July 1. It is the first permanent tribunal capable of trying individuals for the most serious war crimes and other violations of international human rights law, including genocide.

President Clinton signed the treaty before he left office, but the Bush administration, saying it leaves the United States open to politically motivated prosecutions, withdrew from the agreement.




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