Another unnecessary concession to US bullying

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Foreign Ministers of the European Union seem likely to decide today that, rather than give in individually to US arm-twisting, they will agree to common terms of surrender.

No, this is not about Iraq – not directly. Today's meeting is to decide what to do about US demands that its citizens be granted immunity from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court.

When the court is established it will be an important strengthening of the idea of universal human rights. With a remit to try crimes against humanity, it will hear the kind of cases that, from the Nazis at Nuremberg to Milosevic at The Hague, have until now been heard by one-off tribunals.

One of the obvious suspects who should end up in the dock of the new court is Saddam Hussein, on charges of using chemical and biological weapons and waging war on the Kurdish minority in Iraq. The US knows that the court's powers would not be used against its private citizens or soldiers. Its purpose is to prosecute the orchestrators of genocide or serious war crimes. (Whatever the mistakes of US foreign policy, in the past or the present, Henry Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld do not remotely fall into that category.)

Not satisfied with refusing to sign the treaty setting up the court, the US is now trying to persuade countries that have signed to agree to exempt US citizens from its provisions. Most disgracefully, Romania was told it could not join Nato unless it agreed.

The response of Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, to this bullying is appeasement. He proposed that the EU agree a joint position of giving the US what it wants. Never mind that today's deal is hedged with conditions that the US may still not find acceptable, the idea of making special concessions to one nation simply because it is so powerful is odious.

Earlier this summer, the US threatened to pull out of peace-keeping duties in Bosnia unless exemptions were agreed within days. They are still there. If the US eventually comes round to joining the International Criminal Court – just as it rejoined Unesco this month – it will not be because the EU made some craven concessions today.

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