US will deny aid to countries that refuse court immunity deals

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Indy Politics

The United States aims to secure agreements "with every country in the world" guaranteeing immunity for its citizens from any prosecution from the new International Criminal Court (ICC), and will cut off military aid to countries which do not comply.

In an uncompromising defence of Washington's decision to shun the court, Under Secretary of State John Bolton announced yesterday that the US has already reached so-called Article 98 exemption agreements, under the Rome statutes setting up the ICC, with 70 countries; 50 of them among the ICC's 90 signatories.

Speaking at the conservative thinktank, the American Enterprise Institute, Mr Bolton also accused the European Union of imposing an "unfair choice" on aspirant members by insisting they do nothing to weaken the authority of the ICC. This made it harder for these countries to reach exemption deals with the US, he complained.

The White House's total rejection of the court, announced soon after it took office in 2001, fuelled some of the first criticism of the Bush administration as unilateralist and scornful of international pacts. The language of Mr Bolton, in-house 'neo-conservative' hawk at the State Department, will only sharpen such complaints. He lambasted the "intolerable" authority of the court, with its "unaccountable prosecutors and unchecked judicial powers" which represented a "macro-constitutional" issue for the US. More clearly than ever before, Mr Bolton indicated that Washington's biggest objection is not to the risk that the court poses to American soldiers, diplomats and other officials, but that it would encourage attempts to prosecute top figures in US government, past and present, for war crimes.

He cited the efforts in Belgium - since abandoned - to level charges against President Bush and military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon over Iraq. "Launching criminal investigations can have enormous political implications," Mr Bolton said.

Washington's favoured retaliation is to sever military aid to countries which refuse to grant Article 98 exemptions.

The Act has been rigidly applied by the Bush administration, even to close allies who have contributed to the American-led occupation of Iraq.

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