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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Cuts Its Military Aid in ICC Dispute

WASHINGTON -- The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush suspended all U.S. military assistance to 35 countries Tuesday because they refused to pledge to give U.S. citizens immunity before the International Criminal Court.

The administration warned last year that under a provision of the new U.S. anti-terrorism law, any country that became a member of the new court but failed to give exemptions to Americans serving within its borders would lose all U.S. military aid -- including education, training and financing of weapons and equipment purchases.

Many of the affected countries, such as Colombia and Ecuador, are considered critical to the administration's efforts to bring stability to the hemisphere. Others such as Croatia are preparing to join NATO and were counting on U.S. help to modernize their armed forces.

Officials said that, in all, the 35 countries will lose $47.6 million in aid and $613,000 in military education programs will be lost to the 35 countries.

The Bush administration strongly opposes the new court, the world's first permanent forum for trying individuals charged with genocide and other crimes against humanity, on the grounds that Americans could be subjected to politically motivated prosecutions.

"There should be no misunderstanding, that the issue of protecting U.S. persons from the International Criminal Court will be a significant and pressing matter in our relations with every state," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday.

Bush signed a waiver exempting 22 nations from these sanctions because they had signed but not yet ratified the immunity agreement. That list included Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Nations that are full members of NATO and other major allies --including Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Japan and South Korea -- were not part of the military assistance prohibition.

Prince Zeid Raad al-Hussein of Jordan, the president of the assembly of nations that signed the treaty establishing the court, said that 90 countries have become members despite the opposition of the United States.

"The simple conclusion is that the American campaign has not had a negative effect on the establishment of this court. We have a court in place, a very fine panel of judges, a prosecutor and we should be fully running by the end of the year," said the prince, who is Jordan's permanent representative to the UN.

Lincoln Bloomfield Jr., the assistant secretary for political military affairs, said the administration had no intention of undermining the court. Instead, he said, the administration wanted to preserve its right to remain outside of its purview, especially with the rise in the number of attempts to indict U.S. officials for war crimes.

"Our opposition is not meant to be a lack of respect for the jurists involved in the ICC. It is concern that there could be politically motivated charges against American citizens," he said. "Several standing officials have been under war crimes indictment in Belgium this year for their roles in the 1991 Gulf War."

He said these include Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Supporters of the court dismissed this argument, saying the Belgian court is a national body with very different rules than the new international court, which has safeguards that would help protect U.S. officials.

Richard Dicker, a director of Human Rights Watch in New York, said the suspension of military aid Tuesday amounted to a defeat for the current campaign against the court.

"This policy is creating a dilemma where the administration has to choose between sound military cooperation with democratic nations and this campaign of ideology against the International Criminal Court," Dicker said. "I've never seen a sanctions regime aimed at countries that believe in the rule of law rather than ones that commit human rights abuses."

Senior administration officials said Tuesday's announcement should not be seen as a permanent freeze on all military aid to these 35 countries.

Aid could be resumed if they sign the exemption agreement demanded by the administration. Or the president could issue waivers at any time if he believes that, by failing to help a foreign government face an emergency, the country's national security would be put at risk.

That was little comfort to the 35 countries that lost military assistance Tuesday, based on how much money they had already spent of promised U.S. support during this fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.