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US ties military aid to immunity for its troops

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U.S. Ties Military Aid to Peacekeepers' Immunity

August 10, 2002
By ELIZABETH BECKER
NEW YORK TIMES






WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 - The Bush administration, making use of
a provision of the new antiterrorism law, warned foreign
diplomats this week that their nations could lose all
American military assistance if they became members of the
International Criminal Court without pledging to protect
Americans serving in their countries from its reach.

The threat to withdraw military aid - including education,
training and help financing the purchase of equipment and
weaponry - could be felt by almost every nation that has
relations with the United States, though the law exempts
many of its closest allies. The law gives the president
authority to waive the provision and decide to continue
military aid if he determines it is in the national
interest.

This part of the new law, which passed Congress with broad
bipartisan support and was signed last week by President
Bush, provides the administration with its broadest and
most coercive tool to keep American peacekeepers out of the
hands of the new court.

Written by Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the majority
whip, the measure is intended to force as many countries as
possible to sign bilateral agreements not to extradite
Americans to the new court for trial, according to a
Republican Congressional aide who worked on the measure.

Romania and Israel have signed such agreements.

The Bush
administration opposes the court, the world's first
permanent forum for trying individuals charged with
genocide and other crimes against humanity, on the ground
that it could subject Americans to politically motivated
prosecutions abroad.

This week, the State Department invited foreign ambassadors
in for briefings to lay out American opposition to the
court and to warn them of the prohibition against military
aid to countries that are a party to the treaty
establishing the court.

"That is a fact under the law, it's right there in the
law," said Philip Reeker, a State Department spokesman.
"The president welcomes the law - I can't underscore how
important this is to us to protect American service
members."

Another provision in the law gives the president authority
to free members of the armed services or other Americans
who are in the court's custody by any "necessary and
appropriate means," including use of the military.

Nations that are members of NATO and other major allies -
including Israel, Egypt, Australia, Japan and South Korea -
are exempted from the military assistance prohibition. The
Pentagon said the measure could touch just about every
other country on the globe.

"It is easier to list what countries do not receive
American military assistance than those that do," said Lt.
Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind of the Navy, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
"Virtually every country but Cuba, Iraq, Iran and the other
countries on the terrorist list receive some military
training or aid from us."

Jonathan Grella, a spokesman for Mr. DeLay, said, "This is
just an effective tool, and we have said numerous times
that we have to do whatever it takes to protect our service
members from this rogue court." The United States has about
9,000 peacekeepers stationed in nine countries.

After pitched debates with its European and North American
allies, the administration won agreement from the United
Nations Security Council last month to exempt American
peacekeepers for one year.

After winning that temporary solution, the administration
began seeking longer exemptions through a provision in the
treaty known as Article 98, which allows nations to
negotiate immunity for their forces on a bilateral basis.

Human rights groups condemned the administration's latest
tactic of using the threat of withdrawing military
assistance as a tool in those negotiations.

"This makes the remote possibility of American prosecution
by the court trump every other definition of national
interest - it is fixation to the point of craziness," said
Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch.


His organization sent a letter to every country that has
signed or ratified the court treaty informing them that
they should not necessarily feel compelled to sign an
agreement because of the presidential authority to waive
the provision on military aid.

Military assistance programs that could be terminated
include international military education that brings
foreign officers and students here for professional
military training and financing for the purchase of
American weapons and services. The goal of military
assistance programs, the Pentagon says, is to "enable
friends and allies to acquire U.S. equipment, services and
training for their legitimate self-defense and
multinational security efforts."

Threatening to end these programs appears heavy-handed even
to some of those who share the administration's concerns
about the court.

James B. Steinberg, vice president of the Brookings
Institution and a deputy national security adviser to
President Bill Clinton, said he shared some of the
administration's concerns about the court. Still, he added,
military assistance programs "reflect shared common
interest between the United States and foreign nations and
should not be used as a club to get these countries to sign
agreements."

"It's a very awkward way to deal with allies, " Mr.
Steinberg said. "We ought to be able to persuade them
rather than coerce them. This has a very heavy feel to it."


Several foreign diplomats said they were angry and puzzled
by this threatened cutoff of military assistance even to
countries that provided valuable military cooperation to
the United States in the world wars, the Vietnam War, the
gulf war and the current campaign against terrorism. None
agreed to be quoted by name.

"Why is this court so important that Washington would risk
our military friendship?" asked a diplomat who represents a
country that was a wartime ally of the United States.

Even diplomats from countries exempt from the prohibition
and who sympathize with some of the Americans' concerns
said they were uneasy.

"Military aid is given out after much careful thought," one
diplomat said. "How has the world changed so suddenly that
now this military assistance is no longer in American
national interests?"