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Romania Grants US Citizens Immunity From War Crimes Court - 2002-08-09

Romania has irritated the European Union by signing a deal with the United States, promising not to turn American citizens over to a new international war crimes court. EU officials attribute Romania's move to its eagerness to obtain U.S. support for its bid to join the NATO alliance later this year.

Romania is the first country to sign a deal with the United States that grants U.S. citizens immunity from arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which came into being last month.

The United States vehemently opposes the court, because it fears hostile nations may abuse it to bring politically-motivated cases against U.S. soldiers and officials.

The European Union, on the other hand, regards the new tribunal as a powerful tool for deterring crimes against humanity and genocide.

The United States is trying to strike bilateral agreements with countries to prevent them from extraditing U.S. citizens to the court, a move that worries the European Union. Italy has acknowledged that it has been approached by U.S. officials seeking to forge a deal similar to the one Washington signed with Bucharest.

The European Union is expected to decide next month whether its member states will be allowed to sign such deals. But, while a coordinated EU stance on the matter is being considered, EU officials say they worry that the United States is pressuring Eastern European countries to strike bilateral agreements.

EU spokesman Michael Curtis said the European Union is disappointed that Romania, which is seeking to join the EU as well as NATO, decided to sign the deal with Washington, without consulting the EU.

"We regret this decision of the Romanians to go in this direction. We deplore that a candidate country to the EU hasn't waited for the European Union to establish its final position. And we are continuing contacts with the Romanians on this issue to gain clarification on why they took this step, but also making clear our regret that this has actually taken place," Mr. Curtis said.

Mr. Curtis and other EU officials would not say whether Romania's action would damage its bid to join the European Union. The impoverished Balkan nation is not expected to be ready for EU membership until at least 2007, because it has been slow in implementing economic and political reforms demanded by the 15-nation bloc.

So, Romania has concentrated its efforts on getting invited to join NATO, when the U.S.-led alliance holds a summit this November in Prague.

One EU official who watches the Balkans said Romania is prepared to go to any length to get into NATO. He said that, in addition to signing the deal with Washington over immunity from the war crimes court, Bucharest also ended a ban on international adoptions of Romanian children under pressure from the United States, where there is a big demand for white babies.