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Bush Administration Defends Decision to Withdraw from International Legal Protocol


The State Department is confirming the United States is pulling out of the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. But it is stressing that it remains committed to the broader convention, which has governed global diplomacy since 1963, and that the United States is not walking away from international commitments.

The administration action stems from a decision by the International Court of Justice in the Hague last year requiring U.S. courts to review the cases of more that 50 Mexican nationals facing execution in Texas and other states.

They had claimed their rights were infringed by the failure of U.S. local officials to inform Mexican consular officials of their arrests.

President Bush late last month told Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to direct state courts to abide by the decision of the international tribunal.

That presidential decision will stand. But in subsequent action this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice notified the U.N. of the United States' withdrawal from the Optional Protocol, which allowed the International Court to intervene in U.S. cases.

Speaking to reporters on her trip to Mexico Thursday, Secretary Rice said despite the move, the United States remains committed to the overall Vienna Convention including the principle of consular notification for foreigners accused of U.S. crimes.

But she said the Optional Protocol was being interpreted inappropriately as applied to the United States and its federal system dividing legal powers between the central government and the states.

The United States itself used the Optional Protocol to successfully sue Iran for taking 52 U.S. diplomats and others hostage in 1979.

But at a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said its use in the death penalty cases was not comparable to the Iranian matter, and that adequate legal protections are already in place for Mexican and other foreign defendants.

"This is a really unexpected and unwelcome precedent, where people who don't like decisions of our state courts can use an international court as a court of appeal," he said. "That doesn't make any sense at all. We've got a system of justice that works in the United States. I don't think you should compare it to other countries, like Iran in 1979. We have a system of justice that works, we have a system of justice that provides people with due process and review of their cases, and it's not appropriate that there be some international court that comes in and can reverse decisions of our national courts."

The issue of consular notification for the Mexican prisoners, due to be taken up soon by the U.S. Supreme Court, has been an irritant in U.S.-Mexican relations and is expected to figure in talks between President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox later this month in Crawford, Texas.

The decision to pull out of the Optional Protocol has drawn criticism from a number of U.S. legal scholars, who depict it as a sore-loser move by the Bush administration after the court at the Hague ruled against the United States.

Spokesman Ereli said only about 30 percent of the countries that belong to the Vienna Convention had adopted the Optional Protocol. He said that by leaving it, the United States joins an existing majority of countries that includes, among others, Canada, Spain and Brazil.

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