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EU Sides With U.S. on War Court

Justice: Ministers reach a deal to bar extradition of any accused American officials or military personnel if Washington guarantees that suspects will be tried at home.

October 01, 2002|From Times Wire Services

BRUSSELS — The European Union agreed on a compromise plan Monday to spare Americans the fate of standing trial in the new international war crimes court, but the bloc immediately came under criticism for caving in to U.S. pressure.

EU foreign ministers reached a deal among themselves that in effect prevents them from extraditing U.S. soldiers or government officials to the International Criminal Court as long as Washington guarantees that any Americans suspected of war crimes will be tried in the United States.

The Bush administration has asked countries for blanket exemptions from the court, fearing Americans could face politically motivated trials stemming from peacekeeping or other military operations in areas of war or crisis. So far, a dozen nations have signed immunity deals with the U.S.

But critics of the EU move said the bloc papered over its own fundamental disagreements on the issue to end a standoff that has compounded weeks of transatlantic tension over Iraq.

The foreign ministers approved guidelines under which member states can agree not to hand Americans suspected of war crimes over to the court.

"If individual states stay within these red lines ... the court will not be undermined," Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said. "There is no concession here. There is no undermining of the ICC."

The agreement may open the way for Britain, Italy and Spain, whose leaders are President Bush's closest European allies, to strike immunity deals with the U.S.

Those EU members that oppose such accords may nevertheless apply other, existing agreements to keep Americans out of the court. For instance, soldiers stationed abroad are usually exempt from prosecution in the nation where they are based under existing accords.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to take an immediate position on the latest proposals. "We'll study the details of the European Union's decision very closely, and we look forward to discussing it in more detail with member states," he said.

The EU foreign ministers said they will not exempt their nationals from any trial in the ICC, the first permanent international tribunal to judge individuals for war crimes, which opened for business in The Hague in July.

EU governments have been under pressure from human rights groups and the European Parliament not to give in to Washington's push for immunity deals.

The human rights group Amnesty International dubbed Monday's agreement "a step back" and said it gave a green light to non-EU countries that had been hesitating to sign immunity deals with the United States.

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