- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 2002

From combined dispatches
HELSINGOR, Denmark The European Union showed a new willingness yesterday to compromise on U.S. demands that it exempt Americans from prosecutions at the international court on war crimes.
Italy and Britain had already indicated that they are ready to break ranks with their EU partners and sign bilateral deals granting Washington's wish.
Speaking at the end of a two-day meeting of 15 EU foreign ministers, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said he will seek an EU-wide accord by Sept. 30 to grant Americans immunity before the International Criminal Court in any cases related to peacekeeping operations.
"Our aim is to arrive at an understanding with the United States without undermining the ICC," Mr. Moeller said.
The Bush administration is concerned that Americans politicians and members of the military could become targets of politically motivated trials.
It has said that sparing Americans that fate could be done under Article 98 of the International Criminal Court charter, which deals with stationing troops in foreign nations.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he would await the outcome of Mr. Moeller's efforts. Earlier Mr. Berlusconi, a staunch Bush ally, had said Washington's request was a bilateral issue, not an EU matter.
"He is convinced there is a problem for the United States, and no one can ignore that it is a real problem," an Italian diplomat said of Mr. Berlusconi.
"He wants the EU to take U.S. concerns into consideration and try to achieve a common position taking into account the problems of the U.S. and without jeopardizing the ICC."
But Italy subsequently reassured its partners meeting in Denmark that it would not make any hasty unilateral decisions.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw would not confirm reports that Britain was ready to sign an exemption accord with Washington. But a British diplomat said the ICC charter "provides an avenue" for such exemptions.
Mr. Straw said that the article did provide for bilateral agreements, and that the only question was about the circumstances under which they could be reached.
"We should seek as far as possible to meet the wishes of our close allies," Mr. Straw told reporters when asked whether Britain might sign a deal with Washington. "I'm not going to speculate on what we might or might not do; we're keeping open the idea."
Legal experts of the 15 EU nations have a first meeting Wednesday. The legal service at the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, has said that exempting Americans from war-crimes prosecutions would not be legal under the ICC treaty.
The tribunal, which is expected to start functioning in The Hague early next year, was set up to try people for atrocities, genocide, war crimes and systematic human rights abuses.
But the United States, which fears that its soldiers overseas could be vulnerable to politically motivated charges, opposes the court. Last month, it won a year's grace period from such prosecution after threatening to veto all peacekeeping operations in the U.N. Security Council.
It has since lobbied ICC signatories to sign bilateral "immunity agreements" under which they would agree not to hand over U.S. citizens to the court.
Romania, Israel and East Timor have entered the bilateral deal with the United States.
Romania, a candidate country for the European Union and NATO, drew sharp criticism from the European Commission for signing an agreement with Washington, and the executive has since told other would-be members not to sign up until the European Union has agreed on its stand.


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