- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2003

Three dozen countries risk losing U.S. military aid after missing a deadline last night for agreeing to protect Americans on their territory from prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

But the Bush administration yesterday said it would waive the suspension of assistance, required by a 2002 law known as the American Service Members Protection Act, if it deems a certain nation crucial to Washington’s strategic interests.

“In implementing the act, we’ll need to balance our broader bilateral interests with substantial consideration to the risks posed to U.S. citizens and service members by the potential for politically motivated charges before the International Criminal Court,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

The countries most likely to receive waivers are those in Central and Eastern Europe that have been invited to join NATO, American and foreign officials said. Another one is Colombia, the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid, used mostly to fight a drug war and a guerrilla opposition.

Romania, one of seven nations expected to become NATO members next year, was the first to sign a so-called Article 98 agreement to protect Americans. The other six — Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia — chose to adopt the pro-ICC position of the European Union, another organization they are in line to join.

“We continue to advise these countries, as well as others, of the importance of signing Article 98 agreements with us,” Mr. Boucher said.

Of the 90 countries that have ratified the ICC treaty, more than 50 signed agreements with the United States under Article 98, which allows member states to enter into bilateral arrangements with other nations to protect their citizens from the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

A total of 44 countries have acknowledged their accords with Washington, according to a list provided yesterday by the State Department. More than five others, including Egypt and Mongolia, are believed to have signed such documents but prefer not to announce this.

Mr. Boucher said about three dozen nations that failed to negotiate agreements by midnight could lose aid appropriated in three categories: foreign military financing, international military education and training, and provision of excess defense articles.

“Current military-assistance programs, for which funding has already been provided, will continue. Funds that have not been provided as of July 1 will be frozen,” the spokesman said.

“While the immediate, practical effect of the July 1 suspension of assistance on current programs will be minimal, there should be no misunderstanding that the protection of U.S. citizens and service members from potential prosecution by the [ICC] will be a significant and pressing matter in our relations with every state,” he said.

The 2002 law automatically exempts all NATO members, Taiwan, and 10 other governments that Washington calls “major non-NATO allies”: Israel, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Jordan, Argentina, Bahrain and the Philippines.

Jordan is the only country in the Middle East to ratify the ICC treaty, but it has refused to sign an agreement with the United States.

The law also grants the president the authority to waive the restrictions for nations that have not fulfilled the Article 98 requirement but are considered “important to the U.S. national interest,” Mr. Boucher said.

The State Department spokesman declined to say which countries President Bush may decide to spare, but a senior department official indicated the White House will make an announcement as early as today.

“We’ll decide how to keep the proper incentives there for countries to sign and for countries that have signed to ratify,” the official said.

A total of 134 countries receive military assistance from the United States.

According to the State Department list, about 25 nations have signed bilateral agreements in the past four months, about half in the past three weeks.

Last month, the Security Council at the United Nations extended by a year a previous exemption for U.S. soldiers on overseas U.N. peacekeeping missions from prosecution by the ICC.

Although the measure gives Washington time to sign more Article 98 agreements, it is separate from the U.S. law that sets the July 1 deadline.

The Bush administration opposes the ICC because of the potential for politically motivated prosecution of Americans. Shortly before the treaty entered into force in July, the administration withdrew the U.S. signature, which President Clinton had placed just before leaving office.

At the time, Mr. Clinton made clear that he disliked the ICC and realized that the Senate would not ratify the treaty, but that he had signed it as a gesture of internationalism.

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