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U.S. cuts aid over war crime court

From Elise Labott

The U.S. fears its soldiers will be the target of politically motivated prosecutions in the court.
The U.S. fears its soldiers will be the target of politically motivated prosecutions in the court.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States could begin cutting military aid to countries that fail to sign an agreement exempting American military and other personnel from prosecution in the International Criminal Court.

Those countries who recognize the ICC without signing an "Article 98 agreement" by July 1 risk being cut off from military training funds and U.S. help with arms purchases.

The potential cut in funding to countries falls under the 2002 American Service Members Protection Act, passed to reflect U.S. opposition to the war crimes court amid fears of potentially politically motivated prosecution of U.S. personnel.

But U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday that the deadline will have little immediate impact.

Several countries, including all NATO allies, are exempt from the U.S. threat, as are what the U.S. considers "major non-NATO allies": Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, New Zealand and South Korea.

U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to issue national security waivers for many others, which a senior State Department official said could come as early as Tuesday.

Boucher said, "While the immediate practical effect of the July 1 suspension of assistance on current programs will be minimal, there should be no misunderstanding that the protection of U.S. citizens from potential prosecution by the International Criminal Court will be a significant and pressing matter in our relations with every state."

Since the treaty setting up the court was passed last year, 44 countries have signed public Article 98 agreements with the Bush administration protecting U.S. personnel from the court.

Incentives

Those countries are Albania, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, the Dominican Republic, East Timor, El Salvador, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Honduras, India, Israel, Macedonia, Madagascar, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Micronesia, Nauru, Nepal, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, the Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Tonga, Tuvalu, Uganda and Uzbekistan.

At least seven other governments have signed agreements, but have asked not to have them publicized. Several other countries have not signed agreements, but have verbally agreed not to hand over U.S. personnel to the court for prosecution.

The July 1 deadline has prompted a number of the agreements. About 25 countries have signed in the past four months, and about half of those have been signed in the past few weeks.

Boucher said the United States is still encouraging other countries to sign agreements.

Despite the threat of losing military aid, the senior State Department official said the United States is weighing "how to keep the proper incentives there for countries to sign and for countries that have signed to ratify."


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