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Peace Missions Are Put in Doubt

Policy: U.S. appears ready to stymie U.N. efforts worldwide unless Americans are exempted from prosecution by a new international court.


UNITED NATIONS — To the open dismay of its allies, the United States appeared prepared Tuesday to paralyze U.N. peacekeeping operations from the Middle East to Central Africa unless it secures a guarantee that American personnel will be protected from the new International Criminal Court--a condition that backers of the court consider legally and politically untenable.

U.N. officials and foreign diplomats are uncertain about both the long-term implications of the U.S. stance as well as its motivation. Washington has rejected back-room suggestions here that it simply withdraw from U.N. peacekeeping missions, few of which have more than a handful of American participants.

U.S. officials here have told reporters and foreign diplomats in recent weeks that Washington wants to retain the option of participating in U.N. peacekeeping but cannot do so unless its demands for immunity are met--and it is therefore prepared, if necessary, to block peacekeeping missions that do not provide these guarantees.

After vetoing a routine extension of two U.N. peacekeeping missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday, U.S. diplomats proposed a new Security Council resolution Tuesday that would exempt from court "investigations or prosecutions" of all current, former and future peacekeepers from countries, such as the United States, that haven't signed the treaty establishing the court.

The U.S. resolution broadly interprets language in the treaty allowing the Security Council to halt specific court proceedings for up to a year and would require perpetual, 12-month deferrals of any court action related to U.S. peacekeepers. Richard Dicker, an official of Human Rights Watch, which strongly supports the court, says the treaty never envisioned that kind of role for the Security Council.

Britain and France are expected to strongly resist the new U.S. proposal when it comes up for debate today at the Security Council. Both U.S. allies have veto power on the council and strongly oppose special provisions exempting any peacekeepers from the court's jurisdiction.

The Europeans long have understood U.S. objections to the international court but have been surprised by the hardening of the Bush administration's position in the wake of the court's entry into legal force Monday.

With the council still deadlocked over the American demands, the United Nations began planning to end its police-training program in Bosnia today, and nervously contemplated the future of equally sensitive U.N. missions elsewhere.

Missions Up for Renewal

Four U.N. missions are slated for renewal this month--in Lebanon, Georgia, Western Sahara and the Prevlaka enclave in Croatia. Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's U.N. ambassador and the current president of the Security Council, said Tuesday that most council members "do not want to go through this agony every time a new peacekeeping operation comes up."

European allies and some former U.S. diplomats criticized the Bush administration's confrontational strategy, but President Bush reiterated his adamant opposition to the new court Tuesday.

"We'll try to work out the impasse at the United Nations," Bush said. "But one thing we're not going to do is sign on to the International Criminal Court."

Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer called the U.S. stance here "a vital matter of principle." The U.N. talks "are difficult," he acknowledged, and "it's impossible to predict what their outcome will be."

Court Popular in Europe

European officials said the administration misjudged the depth of their commitment to the new court, assuming wrongly that British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac would eventually give in to U.S. pressure. The court is genuinely popular in Europe, they said, perhaps because it is not controlled by the United States, the sole global superpower. In Britain, moreover, the Labor Party could face a rebellion in its ranks if Blair is perceived to support a go-it-alone U.S. foreign policy.

But the U.S. commitment to its position was equally misjudged by the Europeans, diplomats say.

"The Americans thought they could convince us, but they did not prevail, just like we thought we could convince them and did not prevail," said Ole Peter Kolby, Norway's U.N. ambassador, after the inconclusive council debate Tuesday.

China and Russia, the other two permanent veto-wielding members of the Security Council, might appear more vulnerable to war crimes prosecutions, but both have supported the European position in the dispute and profess to be unconcerned by possible court infringement on their sovereignty. China, however, has not signed the treaty establishing the international court.

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