The Bush administration has abandoned its plan to seek a Security Council resolution providing an open-ended exemption for U.S. personnel serving in U.N.-authorized peacekeeping missions from prosecution by the International Criminal Court, senior U.S. and Security Council diplomats said.
The United States, under increasing criticism for U.S. abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, was facing a diplomatic defeat in the 15-nation council over the U.S.-sponsored text. The United States is pressing instead for a resolution that would shield U.S. personnel from prosecution only through June 2005.
The court was established under a 1998 treaty to prosecute individuals responsible for the most serious crimes, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Since the court began its work, in July 2002, the United States has demanded that the council grant its personnel an exemption from prosecution to carry out its global peacekeeping obligations.
In reducing that demand, senior U.S. officials said Tuesday that they have obtained written assurances from 90 countries that they would not surrender U.S. personnel to the court, which is based in The Hague.
Still, without a Security Council exemption, there is a possibility that U.S. troops accused of engaging in massive human rights violations could be subject to prosecution by the court if U.S. authorities refused to try the cases. In such cases, the crime must have been committed on the soil of a country that has ratified the 1998 treaty but has not signed an agreement with the United States.
Afghanistan, for example, has ratified the treaty but also has signed an agreement with the United States pledging not to hand over U.S. personnel to the court. Iraq has not ratified the treaty.
At the request of the United States, Philippine U.N. ambassador Lauro L. Baja Jr. said he intends to introduce an amendment calling for a final one-year extension of a July 2002 resolution that shields troops from countries, such as the United States, that have not ratified the treaty.
"This is a suggestion that will address the concerns of some Security Council members that this not go on in perpetuity," said Stuart Holliday, the U.S. representative to the United Nations for political affairs. The Philippines is "consulting with other council members to see whether this in fact would accommodate their positions."
Last week, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the Security Council to oppose the U.S. resolution seeking an open-ended exemption. In a confidential memo, Annan told the Security Council that it would discredit the United Nations and undercut efforts to "promote the rule of international law."
Annan's remarks have hardened council opposition. Several key council members -- including Chile, Algeria and Pakistan, which recently considered supporting the U.S. resolution -- say they are now undecided. "Everybody is watching to see what the others are going to do," said Algeria's U.N. ambassador, Abdallah Baali.
Chile's U.N. ambassador, Heraldo Munoz, said that Annan's remarks "created a new political context" for the debate.
"We do not want to slap the secretary general in the face," added German U.N. ambassador Gunter Pleuger. Germany, like France, indicated that the latest U.S. concession was not sufficient to win its support.
The treaty establishing the court has been signed by 135 countries and ratified by 94. President Bill Clinton signed it in December 2000, but the Bush administration renounced it in May 2002, cautioning that it could be used to carry out frivolous trials against U.S. troops.
A month ago, the administration was confident that the council would adopt the resolution. But the initiative began to unravel after Chile decided to abstain, and China warned that it was considering abstaining, or even vetoing the resolution, citing abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. U.S. officials said China, which has not ratified the treaty, opposed the United States because it had recently supported Taiwan's bid for observer status in the World Health Assembly.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz acknowledged at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee that the abuse at Abu Ghraib had taken a diplomatic toll. "The damage is enormous," he said.