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US Signals Support for ICC Prosecution of Sudan's Bashir

A senior State Department official says the United States wants to see those responsible for Darfur atrocities held accountable and will not stand in the way of the possible prosecution of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court.

The United States is not a party to the Rome Statute that set up the ICC, owing to concerns of the former Bush administration that the court is unaccountable to anyone and might prosecute U.S. troops or diplomats.

But even during the Bush administration, the United States provided the court with largely unpublicized support in documenting Darfur atrocities, and officials here are making clear that the U.S. government has no intention of impeding ICC prosecution of the Sudanese leader for allegedly orchestrating Darfur genocide.

A senior State Department official who spoke to reporters said the United States wants to see Mr. Bashir held accountable and will not stand in the way of the prosecution as it goes forward. He said U.S. officials expect the ICC arrest warrant to be issued by the end of the month and that the United States, aware of efforts to stall the action, will not support any delay.

Earlier at a press briefing, State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said that while the Obama administration is reviewing U.S. policy toward the ICC, it wants to see those responsible for atrocities anywhere in the world face justice.

"The fact that there have been these atrocities committed in Darfur has been a great concern of the United States over the years. And where we can be supportive [of the ICC] we have tried to be. At this point, we are not party to the Rome Statute. But there is a review underway with regard to the ICC, and I do not have anything further on that until we have completed that review," he said.

Former President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute in 2000, but did not submit it to the Senate for ratification pending a U.S. assessment of the functioning of the court.

His successor, President George W. Bush, in an unusual move, withdrew the U.S. signature out of concern the ICC's mandate and jurisdiction were too broad and undefined.

The Bush administration later softened its position on the court and began providing it low-key support on Darfur, after former Secretary of State Colin Powell capped an extensive U.S. examination in 2004 by deeming government-inspired atrocities in Darfur to be genocide.

During the presidential campaign last year, President Obama said the United States should support ICC investigations in a way that reflects American sovereignty and promotes U.S. national security interests.

Any effort to overturn the Bush administration's withdrawal from the Rome Statute would be complicated by a 2002 act of Congress; the American Service Members Protection Act. It barred cooperation with the ICC by U.S law-enforcement agencies and required countries receiving U.S. military aid to exempt American troops operating there from ICC jurisdiction.

U.S. officials give no time-frame for when the ICC policy review might be completed.