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US Suspends Aid to Nations Not Granting US Exemption from War Crimes Court - 2003-07-01

The Bush administration, acting under a mandate from Congress, Tuesday suspended military aid to 35 countries that have failed to exempt members of the U.S. armed forces from prosecution by the International Criminal Court, the ICC. The affected countries include a key U.S. aid recipient, Colombia, as well as six nations that will soon join NATO.

Officials here say the amount of U.S. aid being withheld is not great, less than $50 million overall. But they said the suspensions underline the seriousness with which the Bush administration and the Congress take the issue of the ICC and the need to make U.S. troops immune from its jurisdiction.

President Bush withdrew the United States from the Rome treaty setting up the international court more than a year ago, arguing that the court - intended to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity - could become a forum for politically-motivated prosecutions of U.S. peacekeepers and other troops posted abroad.

July 1 was the deadline set by an act of Congress for countries to either sign separate ICC immunity agreements with the United States or face a cut-off of U.S. military aid.

The drive for exemptions has been sharply criticized by European allies, among others, who contend that the U.S. stand weakens the international court. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher reiterated Tuesday the United States is trying to protect its rights, not undermine the Rome statute.

"We're not attempting to infringe upon the right of countries that have decided to sign and implement the treaty involving the international criminal court," he said. "And we ask that our right, and our decision and our sovereignty in deciding not to be a part of that treaty is similarly respected," Mr. Boucher explained. "We think it's important that we have the ability to choose not to become a party, and that we not be subject to jurisdiction by a treaty for which we have not become a party," he said.

The 35 countries now subject to the suspension are those U.S. military aid clients which did not conclude immunity treaties, so-called "Article 98" agreements, with Washington, or were not otherwise exempted from the penalty under terms of the law.

The act of Congress, the American Service Members Protection Act, does not apply to NATO member states or countries designated as major non-NATO U.S. allies.

In addition, President Bush has exercised a provision of the law to excuse 16 nations from the aid penalty for reasons of U.S. national security.

Those left facing the aid cut-off include Colombia, one of the biggest U.S. aid recipients, as well as six countries preparing to join NATO next year Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Officials here pointed out that most of the U.S. aid earmarked for the six NATO invitees this year has already been provided, and thus not covered by the suspension.

In the case of Colombia, most of the roughly $1 billion a year U.S. aid program is for counter-narcotics, as opposed to military programs. And of the $100 million in U.S. military aid to Colombia this year, all but $5 million has already been delivered.