- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

The European Union agreed yesterday to allow its members to sign bilateral accords with the United States exempting Americans on their territory from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court.
But the move failed to impress the Bush administration, which pointed to conditions attached to the decision.
At a meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels, the 15-member union issued certain "guidelines" that limit immunity from the tribunal to U.S. personnel stationed overseas and demand guarantees from Washington that any American facing ICC charges will be tried in the United States.
"If individual states stay within these red lines, the court will not be undermined," said Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, who chaired the meeting as representative of the country holding the rotating EU presidency.
The Bush administration, worried about politically motivated prosecutions of not only soldiers but also senior government officials no matter where they are in the world, wants blanket immunity from the court. In addition, it is reluctant to give assurances about domestic trials for U.S. citizens accused of abuses abroad.
Even though the administration acknowledged yesterday that it had been pursuing the issue "avidly" with the Europeans, it refrained from welcoming the EU decision and said there were matters to be negotiated.
"At this point, I can't give you a definitive opinion," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "We'll study the details of the European Union's decision very closely, and we'll look forward to discussing it in more detail with member states."
In private, senior administration officials said the lack of enthusiasm was due to specific conditions imposed by Brussels that leave member states with little room to negotiate directly with Washington.
"There are some good and some bad things in the decision," said one senior State Department official, "so we are not going to try to be enthusiastic about it."
Mr. Boucher said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell discussed the issue during weekend phone calls with several of his European colleagues, including Mr. Moeller, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Javier Solana, the EU secretary-general.
"We think our ability to reach agreements is important, and we have made that clear in Europe and elsewhere," Mr. Boucher said.
The United States began a diplomatic campaign to persuade individual countries to sign bilateral accords after it failed to secure universal immunity for Americans in the ICC statute. Article 98 of that founding document allows for bilateral exemptions from the court's jurisdiction.
So far, 12 non-EU nations have signed or promised to sign such agreements.
The dispute between Washington and Brussels became particularly bitter two months ago when Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, publicly snubbed EU-hopeful Romania for signing the accord without first consulting Brussels.
Mr. Prodi even suggested that such behavior might hurt the country's bid to join the European Union. He warned candidates not to make any decisions before the union formulates a common position.
But Britain, Italy and Spain, whose leaders are President Bush's closest allies on issues of friction such as the ICC and Iraq, signaled that they might sign agreements anyway.
Although yesterday's announcement was viewed by many diplomats as a compromise, some said significant differences among EU members remained.
"This is putting a brave face on disunity," one diplomat was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying. "For the moment it looks like the EU is unified, but there are fundamental differences that will be exposed as states sign up."
Others were more optimistic and even surprised at how smoothly things had gone.
"I think this is better than I had expected," Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh said. "I had as a starting point the view that one should under no circumstances allow exemptions at all. But in the face of the risk that several states would enter into their own agreements, I believe this offers clear rules on how to keep the ICC."
While Britain reiterated its intention to sign an accord with the United States, Germany said it would not consider such a deal.
"People are looking to Europe," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. "What matters is that the Europeans stand together on the basis of a strengthening of the court's statute. What matters to us is not to assuage anyone."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's strong opposition to U.S. military action against Iraq helped his coalition of Social Democrats and Greens win re-election by the slimmest of margins last month.
But the anti-American tone of his campaign, during which his justice minister reportedly compared Mr. Bush's political style to Hitler's, seriously damaged ties with Washington, prompting the White House to call the relationship "poisoned."

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