- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2002

MILWAUKEE President Bush yesterday repudiated the day-old International Criminal Court and vowed to protect "our diplomats and our soldiers" from its reach, even if that would mean curtailing peacekeeping missions.
Mr. Bush said his administration was trying to persuade the United Nations to pre-emptively grant immunity to U.S. forces by midnight today, after which point the United States might withdraw a small number of Americans from a police-training mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"We'll try to work out the impasse at the United Nations," the president told reporters at a church here. "But one thing we're not going to do is sign on to the International Criminal Court."
Mr. Bush suggested that the court, set up to prosecute war crimes, was a threat to U.S. sovereignty.
"As the United States works to bring peace around the world, our diplomats and our soldiers could be drug into this court," he said. "That's very troubling to me."
He was not the first president to have doubts about the tribunal, he added during his visit to the Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ.
"President Clinton signed this treaty, but when he signed it, he said it should not be submitted to the Senate," Mr. Bush said. "It therefore never has been, and I don't intend to submit it either."
The president's criticism came two days after John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, vetoed a Security Council renewal for the Bosnia peacekeeping operation. The administration did not want U.S. forces to fall under the purview of the International Criminal Court, which came into existence the next day.
But Mr. Negroponte agreed to a three-day extension of the peacekeeping operation so the State Department could try to work out a solution with the United Nations. That extension expires at midnight.
"These are difficult talks, and it's impossible to predict what their outcome will be," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "It's being discussed actively at numerous levels, led by State and Ambassador Negroponte."
Mr. Fleischer dismissed suggestions that the dispute was a pretext for curtailing America's far-flung peacekeeping operations, which was a campaign promise by Mr. Bush.
"Absolutely not this is on the merits of the trouble that the United States sees for men and women who serve our country abroad," the spokesman said in response to questions from The Washington Times aboard Air Force One. "This is separate and apart from the president's broad belief about peacekeeping missions and the United States' role."
He added: "It's a very important issue that the president thinks is a vital matter of principle, to protect American servicemen and women and peacekeepers. We are involved deeply, globally, and the United States has a lot at risk."
The United Nations has immunized from ICC jurisdiction peacekeepers from countries such as Britain and France because those nations are participating in the court's operation. The same immunization was denied American forces because Washington refused to participate in the tribunal.
"The president wants a level playing field because those other nations that are signatories to the ICC and are participating under its purview have negotiated similar immunities for their personnel," Mr. Fleischer said. "So we're not asking for anything that's very different from what they themselves are granted."
Mr. Clinton said he signed the treaty because he thought significant alterations could be negotiated before it was submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification. But those changes never were made, and most senators from both parties opposed U.S. participation in the tribunal.
Critics worry that the court will include nations that might take out anti-American biases on GIs or U.S. diplomats who find themselves charged with ill-defined war crimes.
In a briefing yesterday at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cited as an example the U.S. anti-terrorism operation in Afghanistan, where he said the enemy Taliban and al Qaeda militias had spread lies about American troops that a prosecutor at the tribunal could use for political purposes.
"We know in Afghanistan, people have inaccurately lied and charged Americans with killing innocent civilians when it did not happen. And we know it was weeks before we got people on the ground and could verify that," he said.
The ICC does not allow a defendant to be tried by a jury of his peers and considers as crimes some forms of speech that are protected by the First Amendment in the U.S. legal system.
"It puts American servicemen and women at fundamental risk of being tried by an entity that is beyond America's reach, beyond America's laws, and can subject American civilian and military to arbitrary standards of justice," Mr. Fleischer said. "The ICC is fundamentally flawed."
The spokesman made clear that Mr. Bush was not about to budge on this issue, even if the United Nations refused to back down by midnight. He said there was "a clear worry" about protecting "American sovereignty."
If the dispute is not settled, the United States may scuttle as many as a dozen U.N. peacekeeping missions as they come up for renewal in the months ahead. The United States already has withdrawn three military observers from an operation in East Timor.
While Sunday's veto applies to the U.N. police-training operation in Bosnia, it would not directly affect America's involvement in a NATO peacekeeping force there. The veto does, however, cut off U.N. support of the NATO force, which includes Americans.
In his Pentagon news conference, Mr. Rumsfeld said that as long as "we have forces in countries all over the globe, we have no intention of pulling back."
But Mr. Rumsfeld said the United States would seek such agreements before sending peacekeepers to any new countries.
"It would be inaccurate to say that the United States would necessarily withdraw from every engagement we have in the world between now and the time that that immunity is provided; we have no plans to do that," he said.
Most envoys at the United Nations yesterday seemed more concerned with shoring up the 6-year-old Bosnia mission, which is training civilian police officers in everything from traffic management to human rights.
The new U.N. Security Council president, British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, seemed less than optimistic early yesterday afternoon.
"We're having a go at seeing whether we can solve the problem for a longer period than a few days," he said. "There are going on now, in the corridors here and between capitals, discussions to see what the options may be for easing the problem before midnight tomorrow."
Bosnia's foreign minister yesterday told reporters he had received American assurances that there would be no abrupt withdrawal.
"I talked late last night to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and I have to say that that conversation was a great encouragement for me. Mr. Powell confirmed to me that Americans will not leave with the job unfinished," Zlatko Lagumdzija said in Sarajevo after a meeting with Bosnia's interethnic presidency.
Betsy Pisik in New York contributed to this article.

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