EU might exempt U.S. from war crimes trials

Published: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 31, 2002 at 11:00 p.m.
HELSINGOER, Denmark - The European Union showed a new willingness Saturday to compromise on U.S. demands that it exempt Americans from prosecutions at the international court on war crimes.
Italy and Britain have already indicated they are ready to break ranks with their EU partners and sign bilateral deals granting Washington's wish.
Ending a two-day meeting, the 15 EU foreign ministers also condemned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's for flouting the international community's demand to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors.
And Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said he will tour the Middle East next week with a peace plan that is to lead to an independent Palestinian state by 2005, the date favored by President Bush.
Moeller also said he will seek an EU-wide accord by Sept. 30 to grant Americans immunity before the International Criminal Court in any cases related to peacekeeping operations.
"Our aim is to arrive at an understanding with the United States . . . without undermining the ICC," Moeller said.
The Bush administration is concerned Americans - politicians and members of the military - could become targets of politically motivated trials.
It has said sparing Americans that fate could be done under Art. 98 of the International Criminal Court charter, which deals with stationing troops in foreign nations.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he would await the outcome of Moeller's efforts. Earlier Berlusconi, a staunch Bush ally, had said Washington's request was a bilateral issue, not an EU matter.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw would not confirm reports Britain was ready to sign an exemption accord with Washington. But a British diplomat said the ICC charter "provides an avenue" for such exemptions.
Legal experts of the 15 EU nations have a first meeting Wednesday. The legal service at the EU executive Commission has already said exempting Americans from war crimes prosecutions would not be legal under the ICC treaty.
Wary of Washington talk of a war against Iraq, the EU foreign ministers said it was up to the United Nations Security Council - not the Pentagon - to force Saddam to comply with the demand for the readmission of arms inspectors.
Moeller, the meeting's chairman, said the Europeans share Washington's concern about Iraq's arms program but see no point in issuing deadlines or encouraging the United States to attack Iraq.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said a U.S. attack carried "unpredictable consequences."
Straw said Saddam must readmit the weapons inspectors without condition and without restriction.
"If he were to do that, than the case and the argument for a military action would plainly recede," Straw said.
"At this stage the only thing that is sensible" is to emphasize the U.N. role in settling the crisis over Iraq, added Javier Solana, the EU's top foreign and security official, at a joint news conference.
The EU foreign ministers also endorsed a "roadmap" to Mideast peace that Moeller will discuss with governments in the region next week, including Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The first phase deals with stopping the violence, the second with setting up temporary borders and the third with settling the three largest obstacles: Jerusalem, the return of the Palestinian refugees and definitive borders.

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