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EU: Union Weighs Moves In Wrangle With United States Over ICC

  • Ahto Lobjakas

The European Union has launched an intense diplomatic offensive to shore up support for the "red lines" it set down on 30 September for itself and its allies in dealing with the United States over the future jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. Although the bloc seems to have succeeded in "containing" inner divisions and keeping the candidate countries in line, the United States says it will pursue its policy of signing special agreements with ICC signatories.

Brussels, 3 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- European Union officials have kept a low profile after the 30 September rhetoric setting down "red lines" for member states willing to enter into bilateral treaties with the United States that would afford U.S. citizens immunity before the International Criminal Court, or ICC.

While it is no secret that the EU is engaged in intense internal consultations, as well as probing the United States for its reactions and attempting to bring the EU candidate countries behind the union's common stance, substantive details are, as yet, scarce.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign-policy and security chief, would not be drawn into the debate either yesterday or today. The closest he came to a comment was today after meeting with Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or ICTY, when he noted that, "in these days, when we discuss international tribunals, it is very important to have one that functions with the courage, nerve, and energy of [the] ICTY."

Del Ponte herself offered a personal reflection, stressing that diplomatic wrangles notwithstanding, the most important thing is to get the ICC off the ground. She said she hopes that the prosecutor who will be chosen for the ICC is "able to put the structure together and [able to] start work because [what is] important [is that], with or without the United States, with or without support from other states, [this] office can start with investigations and really, concretely conduct an investigation," del Ponte said.

In the last few days, Solana has also held meetings with the Bulgarian and Latvian presidents, where shoring up support for the EU's stance on the ICC was one of the central themes. So far, the signals from the candidate countries have been encouraging.

Romania, the only candidate to sign a bilateral "no-surrender" treaty with the United States, has said it will delay its ratification pending further consultations. Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov told Solana that his country would adhere to the guidelines issued by the EU, adding that as a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council, Bulgaria is actively engaged in promoting the EU position.

Meanwhile, divisions within the EU itself seem to confirm many analysts' view that the tough talk earlier this week was merely an attempt to paper over widening cracks in the EU's own ranks. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer rejected any bilateral deals with the United States out of hand on 30 September. His position is shared by other EU governments, with only Britain and Italy saying they're prepared to sign a bilateral agreement with the United States.

The EU's "red lines" -- that any immunity can cover only U.S. citizens sent on overseas missions by the U.S. government and that immunity would not exempt a U.S. national from prosecution at home -- also risk being discounted by Washington.

Although U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher described the EU's position on 30 September as "positive and constructive," he appeared to make no secret that its core elements are unacceptable to the United States. He flatly rejected the EU's analysis that the 12 bilateral agreements signed so far contravene the ICC's Rome statute, specifically referring to the EU's demand that there be no "blanket immunity" for all Americans abroad. News agencies such as AFP and dpa also quote unidentified U.S. sources as clearly rejecting the proposal that those U.S. citizens who are granted immunity from prosecution by the ICC should still be answerable to U.S. courts on war crimes charges.

Boucher also said the EU's common position would not deter the United States from continuing to seek bilateral agreements with all ICC signatories.

Heather Grabbe, an analyst with the London-based Center for European Reform, noted in an interview with RFE/RL yesterday that the EU and United States are still far from a meeting of minds on this issue.

She said there was widespread bafflement in Europe about the U.S. reaction to the ICC. "There is a fundamental belief in the EU that there is genuinely nothing in the ICC statutes and in the law underpinning its establishment that is really a risk to the United States," Grabbe said.

Grabbe noted that U.S. nationals are not alone in being vulnerable to malicious political prosecutions. By and large, the same threats could affect its main European ally, Britain. Yet Britain's analysis of the situation is fundamentally different. "The Brits are as much at risk as the Americans of falling afoul of the ICC, and yet they read [the statutes] and they thought to themselves 'That's fine, every safeguard is in there,'" Grabbe said.

The uncompromising U.S. stance has alienated the Netherlands, traditionally a staunch U.S. ally. The relations have not been helped by the fact the ICC is to be located in The Hague, the Dutch seat of government, and that since August, a U.S. law appears to authorize the use of military force to liberate any American held by the court.

(RFE/RL's Breffni O'Rourke contributed to this report.)