- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 17, 2003

The Bush administration has drafted a U.N. resolution that authorizes deployment of a multinational force to Liberia and prepares the ground for U.S. participation, administration officials said yesterday.

The draft resolution, initially prepared by the State Department, was held up for several days because the Pentagon wanted to ensure that American peacekeepers would have immunity from the new International Criminal Court (ICC).

Differences over the specific language were resolved by yesterday morning, one senior administration official said.

“This is the kind of resolution we think we need for an American participation” in a Liberia force, said another senior official.

The text, which the United States would introduce in the U.N. Security Council if and when President Bush decides on sending American troops to the African nation, was prepared as part of the administration’s contingency planning, the second official said.

“It won’t be finalized and circulated in the council until the president has made a decision,” he said.

The first official said the United States “will be there in some capacity, but as the president indicated, any force will be limited in scope, not 20,000” troops.

A third administration official said the current version of the paragraph about immunity from the ICC — which Washington opposes — provides that Americans accused of crimes in Liberia could be tried only by U.S. courts.

The Security Council “decides that current or former officials or personnel from a contributing state shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the contributing state for any criminal proceedings, including arrests and investigations, arising out of acts or omissions related to the multinational force or U.N. stabilization force in Liberia, unless such exclusive jurisdiction has been waived by the contributing state,” the new text says.

The United States is not a member of the ICC, whose Rome statute went into effect a year ago. U.S. officials, fearful the court might prosecute Americans for political reasons, have negotiated bilateral agreements with more than 50 countries to exempt U.S. soldiers and officials from the court’s jurisdiction, but Liberia is not one of them.

The administration appeared yesterday not to have persuaded Congress that American troops, already serving in a number of places around the world, should now go to Liberia.

Lawmakers, briefed by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in a closed-door session, said he did not sway many minds.

“I believe that we are stretched very thin, and that our military has its hands full in Afghanistan and Iraq. In my judgment we need to think long and hard before taking on another commitment,” said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican.

“I don’t doubt that an international peacekeeping force would be helpful in Liberia, but at this point I question whether we need to take on that commitment and be the largest contributor of troops, which is what the plan appears to be,” she said.

Administration officials have said the United States will not be the leading participant in any international force.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, voiced “serious reservations,” saying, “I don’t see a national-security interest there.”

He said he has been asking what the national-security interest is in Liberia, but “I haven’t gotten an answer.”

Those who support sending troops said the case was made even before Mr. Powell’s briefing.

“It’s a nation that, I think, with leadership by the United States and significant troops by its neighbors, we can reverse the violence and give them a chance to re-establish a truly democratic and civil government,” said Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat.

He said he trusts the military planners to determine the right level of commitment, though it should include tactical military forces as well as logistical support.

“My sense is that the likelihood of a violent response to our entry would be very, very low,” he said.

Others said they were still waiting to see the administration’s case before deciding whether they will support it.

“I think everybody agrees we’ve got to wait until the president makes his decision. No decision’s been made,” said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Lawmakers said Mr. Powell told them that no final decision had been made.

“He said the teams that have gone there to review the situation on the ground are in the process of reporting. That process has not been completed,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “My hope is we are very, very, very careful about committing our troops to this process.”

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said, “He just discussed technically all of the considerations the president is now looking at. The feeling I gained from this is [that] the president and Powell would like to be helpful to Kofi Annan and the U.N. and Liberia.”

Stephen Dinan and Amy Fagan contributed to this article.

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