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Europe

Wrangles over International Court Highlight Transatlantic Rift

The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote on a resolution Thursday exempting U.S. peacekeepers from being prosecuted by the new International Criminal Court.

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Thrashing it out: Will the Security Council buy more time for U.S. diplomats?

In a dispute that looks set to worsen already strained U.S.-European relations, the Bush administration charged the European Union on Monday with actively undermining its efforts to shield Americans from prosecution by the International Criminal Court, or ICC, according to a recent Washington Post report.

In an unusually tough, confidential diplomatic letter sent to EU governments last week and uncovered by the Washington Post, the United States accuses a number of EU ambassadors of "lobbying against U.S. bilateral efforts" outside of the extended European community. The memo warned that the impact on transatlantic relations will be "very damaging" if the EU does not stop.

U.S. tries to buy time

On Monday, the United States suggested a one-year extension of a resolution adopted last year, which gives prosecution immunity to U.N. peacekeeping personnel from countries that have not ratified the statutes of the ICC. The United States has not ratified the treaty, fearing that its soldiers could be the target of politically motivated prosecutions.

The Bush administration said it needed to extend the request for immunity for another year in order to gain time for negotiating more bilateral agreements barring individual governments from surrendering American citizens to the ICC.

After a year of trying to negotiate accords with governments around the globe, the United States has so far signed agreements with 37 countries – primarily poor, small ones in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

European double standard?

The U.S. effort has encountered stiff resistance from European allies, who believe that the terms set by the United States would undermine the power of the court before it has tried its first case.

For their part, the Americans accuse the Europeans of exercising a double standard.

Deutsche Soldaten in Kabul

Peacekeepers in Afghanistan are protected from prosecution by international agreements.

Britain, France and other European governments have signed such agreements with Afghanistan, shielding thousands of European peacekeepers from surrender by Afghan authorities to the Hague-based court.

The United States accused the 15-member European Union of actively lobbying countries, including the 10 future members of the Union, not to sign the U.S.-drafted agreements. The confidential memo warned that recent improvement in relations with France, Germany and other countries that opposed the war in Iraq could be undone.

Summit in danger

"This will undercut all our efforts to repair and rebuild the transatlantic relationship just as we are taking a turn for the better after a number of difficult months," the confidential memo, known as a démarche, reads . "We are dismayed that the European Union would actively seek to undermine U.S. efforts."

The dispute may come to a head at a planned summit of European and U.S. leaders in Washington on June 25 .

Security Council Vote

Desert Storm

The U.N. wants to avoid a split like that over the Iraq war.

Despite opposition, the resolution to extend the immunity is expected to pass the Security Council easily on Thursday. The U.N. is extremely wary of entering into yet another fray with the White House, following the debacle over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq earlier this year.

Still unclear is whether Germany and France will show their opposition to the U.S. stance by abstaining from the vote. Last year's vote was 15-0 after the United States threatened to veto U.N. peacekeeping missions.

Canada seeks debate

Four key advocates for the court that do not have council seats -- Canada, Switzerland New Zealand and Jordan – have asked for an open debate on the International Criminal Court; this debate may also take place on Thursday.

Canada's ambassador to the U.N., Paul Heinbecker, said: "We would like to have the opportunity to register our support for the court. We see it as bringing accountability to the worst tyrants and the perpetrators of crime."

Taking Criminals to Court

As the first permanent global criminal court, the ICC was set up to try individuals for the world's worst atrocities -- genocide, war crimes and systematic human rights abuses -- in a belated effort to fulfill the promise of the Nuremberg trials 57 years ago that prosecuted Nazi leaders. Among the court's chief advocates are European Union nations, especially Germany, which joined the council this year.

A total of 90 countries have so far ratified the treaty, including all 15 EU member states. 139 countries are signatories to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which established the court.

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