Sat, Jul 19, 2003 - Page 6 News List

US switches tack in fight for war-crime court deals

REUTERS , BRUSSELS

Washington switched tack on Thursday in its face-off with Europe on the new world war-crimes court, moving away from legal arguments in its bid for deals to shield US military and appealing instead for "pragmatism."

A senior State Department official said France had taken steps to put its nationals beyond the reach of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and countries in the Afghan peacekeeping force had guaranteed immunity from prosecution for troops there.

But he stopped short of accusing Europe of hypocrisy over an issue which has been a major contributor to transatlantic tensions.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs Lincoln Bloomfield told reporters after a meeting with EU officials in Brussels that he was not trying to resolve the difference of views at a legal level.

"I want Europeans to understand that at a pragmatic level Americans see their own position as quite ... reasonable and not different really, frankly, from what European political leaders require when it comes to their own nationals."

The US fears its nationals overseas could be vulnerable to politically motivated charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. US President George W. Bush's administration rescinded former President Bill Clinton's signature to the ICC treaty.

Last month Washington won a second year-long exemption from prosecution and has been lobbying hard for ICC signatories to sign bilateral immunity agreements under which they would agree not to hand US citizens automatically over to the court.

At the heart of the debate is Article 98 (2) of the Rome Treaty that created the Hague-based permanent court, which Washington argues allows nations to negotiate immunity for their forces. The EU believes such pacts are not compatible with the treaty and risk undermining the court.

"The discussion in the past has tended to revolve very narrowly around specific provisions of the Rome Treaty and specific provisions of Article 98 etc.," Bloomfield said.

"From a political and pragmatic view my appeal is that people understand that the American position is seen at least by Americans as being not unreasonable at all."

An EU diplomat said Bloomfield's focus on pragmatism rather than legal niceties suggested that "the Americans are aware of the limits imposed by Article 98."

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