U.S. seeking exemptions with new international court

Nations asked for pledge on extraditing Americans


WASHINGTON - The Bush administration, still wary of the new International Criminal Court, is trying to line up nations one by one to pledge not to extradite Americans for trial, administration officials said yesterday.

The administration has signed agreements with Romania and Israel. Both countries have agreed that they will not send American peacekeepers or other personnel to the court, whose purpose is to prosecute individuals for war crimes and genocide when national governments refuse to act.

After months of U.S. lobbying, the United Nations Security Council agreed last month to give American peacekeepers a year's exemption from prosecution by the court. But the administration, concerned that American soldiers serving on peacekeeping missions would be unfairly made targets of prosecution, had wanted blanket immunity that would be automatically renewed each year.

Worried about what could happen when the year's exemption expires, John R. Bolton, the undersecretary for arms control and international security, is leading the effort to enlist as many nations as possible to support exempting Americans from extradition, said Philip Reeker, a State Department spokesman.

"We'll be working with a number of countries to conclude similar agreements, a large number of countries, and we very much appreciate the fact that Romania was the first of those countries to do this," Reeker said.

The bilateral arrangements, Reeker added, "give us the safeguards we were seeking."

A State Department official said Italy is among the nations the United States will approach next. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is eager to improve relations with the United States.

Human rights groups decried the administration's strategy, saying it undermines the court, which began operation last month after receiving the necessary ratifications from nations around the world. Seventy-seven countries have ratified their membership in the court, not including the United States.

"It's outrageous," said Alex Arriaga, director of government relations for Amnesty International U.S.A. "The U.S. should be championing justice. It shouldn't be running it down."

The Bush administration strongly opposes the court on the ground that it could subject American personnel to politically motivated prosecutions abroad. More than 9,000 American peacekeepers are stationed in nine countries.

The court closes a gap in international law as the first permanent tribunal dedicated to trying individuals responsible for the most horrific crimes, including genocide and crimes against humanity. Ad hoc tribunals with limited jurisdictions are addressing the war in the Balkans and genocide in Rwanda.

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