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U.S. to back out of international court treaty

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States will notify the United Nations that it has "no intention" of ratifying a treaty establishing the International Criminal Court and no longer considers itself to be bound by provisions of the pact, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday.

President Clinton signed the treaty in December 2000, but amid concerns it might infringe on the rights of U.S. citizens and federal employees abroad, including members of the armed forces, it was never sent to the Senate for ratification.

"Since we have no intention of ratifying it, it is appropriate for us, because we have such serious problems with the ICC, to notify the ... secretary-general that we do not intend to ratify it and therefore we are no longer bound in any way to its purpose and objective," Powell told ABC's "This Week."

A letter outlining the U.S. decision will be delivered Monday to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, administration officials said.

"This is to inform you, in connection with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court ... the United States does not intend to become a party to the treaty," the letter says. "Accordingly, the United States has no legal obligation arising from its signature."

The letter requests that the United States be removed from any list of countries that have signed, or are party to, the treaty.

The State Department will send cables Monday to its embassies informing them of the decision and instructing the ambassadors to go to their host governments to explain the U.S. position, officials said.

Marc Grossman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, will deliver a speech Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington to explain why the United States sees the treaty as flawed and why it poses a risk to Americans, officials said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Pierre-Richard Prosper, ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, also are expected to lay out the U.S. position in briefings Monday to the news media.

One senior administration official said the removal of the signature "removes any argument that if you sign a treaty, you are obligated to it."

"Some people think it is not possible to unsign a treaty under international law," he said. "We think it is wrong, and we just did it."

Powell told ABC that "President Clinton, when he signed [the treaty], notified the world that the United States had no intention of sending it up for ratification, nor would he recommend to the ... Bush administration that we would send it up for ratification."

Powell insisted the United States has "the highest standards of accountability of any nation on the face of the Earth."

"We are the leader in the world with respect to bringing people to justice. We supported the tribunal for Yugoslavia, the tribunal for Rwanda, trying to get the tribunal for Sierra Leone set up," he said.

"We found that this was not a situation that we believed was appropriate for our men and women in the armed forces or our diplomats and political leaders."

The International Criminal Court would create a permanent forum to try cases involving charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.

Current war crime tribunals have been set up from scratch to handle individual situations such as Bosnia and Rwanda.

The Bush administration objects to the court on the grounds it does not give American citizens and U.S. military personnel the same protection afforded to them under the U.S. Constitution.

Officials said it also does not entitle Americans to the same defense allowed to them under the U.S. legal system.

It also contends the treaty bypasses the U.N. charter and the role of the U.N. Security Council relating to international law.

Another U.S. objection is that it "goes beyond the operation of legal institutions and can determine what is a crime of aggression," another senior administration official said.

"Can you imagine the danger of this for U.S. military personnel abroad?" this official asked.

The official said the next step for the United States is to obtain bilateral agreements from countries that are party to the treaty that U.S. personnel and nationals abroad are not subject to the rules of the court.

"These agreements will be essential if we are going to perform the international role we are expected to perform," the official said.


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