- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2000

NEW YORK The Clinton administration is deliberating whether in the next two weeks to sign a treaty for an International Criminal Court (ICC) that its own officials say will put American forces abroad at risk of prosecution.
Supporters of the treaty are urging President Clinton to sign before a Dec. 31 deadline, saying that even if it is never ratified, that is the only way the United States can maintain influence on decisions, including the appointments of judges and prosecutors.
But Senate Republicans say they see no useful purpose to signing the treaty, arguing that to do so could be only a "conscious and deliberate effort" to force a course of action on the incoming administration of George W. Bush.
The Clinton administration initially championed the ICC, saying a permanent tribunal to prosecute cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes would help prevent the rise of dictators like Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic.
But U.S. negotiators turned against the treaty when it became clear that the United States would not be able to use its veto in the U.N. Security Council to protect U.S. forces from prosecution by the court over actions, such as last year's bombing of Yugoslavia.
Opposition has been even more forceful in the Senate, where Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, has pledged that the treaty will never be ratified.
The administration's dilemma lies in the language of the treaty, under which countries that sign before Dec. 31 will continue to have input into decisions on the formation of the court, even if they do not ratify it.
After that date, a country must both sign and ratify to participate in such decisions, including the selections of judges and prosecutors.
Because the court will have jurisdiction over all nations including those that do not choose to endorse it human rights groups and others are saying the United States must act now before the door slams shut forever.
"Signing gives them more clout, more influence and more good will than if they were on the outside looking in," said Richard Dicker, the associate council for Human Rights Watch International and a passionate proponent of the court.
Noting that the United States may never ratify the court, Mr. Dicker argued that signing the treaty would be "important … in terms of influencing what happens in the court process," but legally meaningless.
"There is nothing binding resulting from signature. President Clinton would not have bound the U.S. government to anything."
But Marc Thiessen, a spokesman for Mr. Helms, said in an interview that he does not see any reason to sign.
"There is no practical consequence to not signing the treaty; it's purely a political decision," he said last week. "The only reason this administration would sign it is a conscious and deliberate effort to tie the hands of the Bush administration."
After a moment's reflection, Mr. Theissen added: "One could argue that the most dangerous two months in American foreign policy are November through January" before Mr. Bush takes office.
The treaty, which will take effect once it is ratified by 60 nations, so far has been signed by 120 countries and ratified by 25 of them. With the 15 members of the European Union moving rapidly toward ratification, observers say the court could come into force in late 2002.
U.S. negotiators have argued persistently to improve protections in the ICC treaty for Americans abroad, but remain dissatisfied with the safeguards they have extracted so far from allies in London, Paris, Ottawa, Berlin and elsewhere.
Earlier this month, a team led by the State Department's ambassador for war-crimes issues, David Scheffer, spent two weeks trying to insert protections for U.S. military personnel into a non-treaty document defining the relationship between the ICC and the United Nations including Secretariat officials, humanitarian workers and peacekeepers.
Legal analysts say the Americans tried yet again to establish a role in the process for the U.N. Security Council, where the United States enjoys a veto.
The final wording of that document, as well as court-financing issues, are unlikely to be resolved until a final conference in September.
The administration so far has refused to say whether Mr. Clinton will sign the treaty in his final days in office and will not even take questions on the issue.
Reporters asking about the government's plans are simply referred to a Dec. 8 interview in which Mr. Scheffer told the New York Times: "No decision has been made at present whether or not to sign the treaty."
Mr. Scheffer "is getting calls from reporters from all over the place, and he's not taking any of them," a State Department spokeswoman said last week.

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