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EU under fire for war court deal

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BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union has come under fire after agreeing a compromise deal with the U.S. over the international war crimes court.

Critics said the 15-member bloc had caved in to U.S. pressure without securing guarantees that the U.S. would agree to its proposals.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday approved a set of guidelines under which member states can agree not to hand Americans suspected of or accused of war crimes over to the court.

Washington, which fears its soldiers and officials overseas could be vulnerable to politically motivated charges, opposes the International Criminal Court.

It has lobbied the court's signatories to sign "immunity agreements" under which they would agree not to hand any U.S. citizen over to the tribunal, and so far 12 non-EU countries have done so.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller told a news conference: "If individual states stay within these red lines ... the court will not be undermined."

But human rights group Amnesty International said the EU compromise also gave the green light to non-EU nations to sign similar deals effectively putting the U.S. beyond the reach of the court.

"U.S. pressure has paid off," Dick Oosting, director of Amnesty International's EU office, said in a statement. "The EU has allowed the U.S. to shift the terms of the debate from legal principle to political opportunism."

One key condition limits immunity from the tribunal to U.S. soldiers and officials sent overseas. Washington has so far insisted a blanket exemption for all U.S. nationals.

The EU guidelines also demand a guarantee from the U.S. that Americans accused of abuses will at least be tried in their own country and says there can be no reciprocal immunity for citizens of the court's signatories.

U.S. and EU officials have yet to hold talks on the EU's compromise proposal and it is not known whether Washington will accept the deal.



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