- The Washington Times - Friday, June 29, 2001

A string of recent high-profile cases has made the death penalty an increasingly sharp wedge in U.S. relations with its leading European allies.
A court in Rennes, France, yesterday approved the extradition of American fugitive James Kopp, charged with the 1998 murder of New York abortion doctor Barnett Slepian, but only after receiving assurances from U.S. prosecutors that "the death penalty will not be requested, pronounced or applied."
The ruling comes in the same week that the International Court of Justice in The Hague agreed with a German government complaint about Arizona's handling of the execution of two German nationals, and the Council of Europe threatened to revoke the observer status of the United States if it failed to curb state executions by 2003.
"It's not exactly a new issue, but it clearly has become much more visible and public in recent days," said Jacqueline Grapin, president of the European Institute, a Washington-based think tank that deals with U.S.-European issues.
"The human rights community and a number of movements on the left have used the specificity of the differences between the U.S. and European law on this issue to attack America more generally," Ms. Grapin said.
Clay Clemens, a specialist in European politics at the College of William & Mary, said he found himself talking more about the death penalty than about any other issue during a recent trip to Germany.
"In certain circles, it's become a way to talk about the general uneasiness they have about President Bush," said Mr. Clemens, who said the topic was much more likely to be brought up by journalists and academics than by the diplomats or government officials he met.
Eleven of the 15 European Union governments are run by center-left coalitions, although Mr. Bush also faced death penalty protests in Spain, where a conservative government is in power.
Mr. Clemens noted that criticism of the United States was far more muted under former President Clinton, who also supported the death penalty and oversaw numerous executions while governor of Arkansas.
Recent European criticism of America's use of the death penalty "is inseparable from the wariness they feel about George Bush on other grounds," Mr. Clemens said.
Mr. Bush's inaugural trip to Europe this month began as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was being executed by injection in a federal prison in Indiana. Mr. Bush was greeted by anti-death penalty demonstrators at numerous stops on his five-day European tour.
Mr. Bush's support for the death penalty while governor of Texas has fueled the protests.
The United States is one of 87 countries that still employ the death penalty, according to the human rights group Amnesty International. China is the world's leading user of the death penalty.
Robert Whiteman, congressional and parliamentary liaison for the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said yesterday that European governments have appealed to other countries, including China, to protest individual executions.
European members of the U.N. Human Rights Commission earlier this year supported an effort to get a vote on a U.S. measure to censure China for human rights violations. But no EU government would co-sponsor the resolution with the United States, and the vote was blocked.
The public demonstrations and newspapers editorializing in Europe mask divided voter sentiment in many EU countries over the death penalty. Polls indicate that in countries such as Britain, Italy and France, popular support for reinstituting the death penalty ranges from 40 percent to 60 percent.
Editorializing about the German government's push in the International Court of Justice in the Arizona case, Berlin's Tagesspiegel wrote this week: "Putting the death penalty in the center of the trans-Atlantic relationship would only accelerate the process of alienation on both sides without changing anything."
Anna Lea Flatow contributed to this report.

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