- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 24, 2005

France yesterday delayed a U.N. vote it had sought on a resolution referring war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region to the International Criminal Court after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier that Washington would oppose the measure.

Miss Rice, in a telephone conversation with Mr. Barnier, did not use the world “veto,” but she used diplomatic language that implied such an outcome, U.S. officials said.

The officials also suggested that Paris might withdraw the resolution altogether, saying a more general U.S. version of the text is more in France’s interest than its own draft.

“Their resolution talks only about the ICC, and if we vetoed it, it would be dead,” one official said. “Ours is not that specific and leaves the door open to different options, including the ICC.”

A veto, however, would be difficult for Washington to exercise, because it might be perceived as blocking the punishment of those responsible for the killing of hundreds of thousands in Darfur, U.S. and foreign diplomats said.

That is why, they added, the United States and France prefer to reach a compromise before a text is put to a vote.

But the signals from Paris yesterday were hardly conciliatory, with officials there saying the ICC is the best venue to try Darfur cases.

“The ICC was specifically conceived to try those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as those committed in Sudan,” a French Foreign Ministry representative said.

The Security Council approved another U.S.-sponsored resolution yesterday authorizing a 10,000-strong peacekeeping force for southern Sudan to monitor a January agreement that ended a 21-year civil war.

Both the U.S. and French drafts on Darfur were circulated in the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday. France had indicated that it would put its version to a vote yesterday but then decided on a delay until next week to allow other council members more time to make up their minds.

“After we put forward the text, certain delegations asked us for a delay to consider it,” France’s ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, told reporters in New York.

China was the first to ask for more time, which is not unusual in the 15-member council.

The United States, France and China have veto power as permanent members, as do Britain and Russia.

The Bush administration opposes the ICC, to which the United States is not a party. Washington fears politically motivated prosecution of U.S. officials and soldiers.

France’s proposal to try Darfur cases at The Hague-based court automatically would leave the United States out of the process to bring to justice those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Washington has made clear that such an option is not acceptable.

Different options — the ICC, a U.S.-proposed ad hoc Tanzania tribunal or an African panel for “justice and reconciliation” suggested recently by Nigeria — should be considered, said State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli.

But a French diplomat said the matter was urgent, and that it would take “a lot of time and money to create an ad hoc tribunal before anything happens.”

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