Italy and Britain May Exempt U.S. From ICC.

Helsingoer, Denmark (AP) - Breaking ranks with their European Union partners, Italy and Britain signaled Saturday they are ready to sign bilateral deals with Washington exempting American citizens from war crimes trials in the International Criminal Court.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said such accords were an issue to be settled between the United States and individual European nations, not a matter for the EU.

"Each EU nation has signed (the court charter) on its own and can decide on its own to conclude" additional accords with other states, Berlusconi said outside an EU foreign ministers meeting.

The conservative Italian leader - a staunch ally of President Bush - is also his country's foreign minister.

The Bush administration fears that the new war crimes tribunal could subject Americans to frivolous prosecutions because of the United States' superpower status. It has been trying to persuade other countries to promise not to launch such proceedings against its citizens.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw declined to confirm media reports his country was ready to sign a bilateral exemption accord with Washington. But a British diplomat said the court's charter "provides an avenue" for any nation to seek the sort of exemptions that Washington wants.

The EU foreign ministers, wrapping up a two-day meeting, also discussed U.S. pressure for a war against Iraq and a new EU initiative for peace in the Middle East.

On Friday, the EU officials said Western Europe broadly shares the U.S. view that Iraq is a dangerous nation. However, wary of Washington tripping into a military adventure, they cautioned the Bush administration to seek U.N. Security Council backing for any armed action.

The meeting revealed a split in Europe over Washington's demand that U.S. nationals be spared trials on war crimes charges stemming from their work as peacekeepers.

Deputy German Foreign Minister Gunter Pleuger said on Friday that while it was legally possible to keep Americans out of prosecution at the tribunal, such a move would erode the tribunal's charter.

"It will certainly not be compatible with the spirit" of the tribunal, which was created to bring war crimes suspects to justice when national governments refuse to do so, Pleuger told reporters.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said he was working on a compromise between the EU and the United States. Denmark, which holds the EU rotating presidency, hoped to reach a deal with Washington by the end of September.

Moeller said any compromise must ensure both continued U.S. participation in international peacekeeping and the court's ability to bring individuals charged with war crimes to justice.

The treaty establishing the International Criminal Court has been signed by nearly 140 countries. The United States is the only vocal opponent of the court, but there are other key countries that haven't signed the treaty and are unlikely to do so in the near future, including India, Pakistan, Iraq and Indonesia.

The court opened for business in The Hague, the Netherlands, in July, two months after 60 nations had ratified the charter and despite the fact the United States had withdrawn its support.

Source: Associated Press, by way of Guardian Unlimited - Saturday August 31, 2002 11:10 AM.

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This document has been published on 23Sep02 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights