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September 19, 2018

US threatens sanctions on ICC judges over Afghanistan war crimes probe

US president Donald Trump's administration on Monday threatened sanctions against ICC judges if probe into Afghanistan war crimes proceeds, September 10, 2018. /TWITTER
US president Donald Trump's administration on Monday threatened sanctions against ICC judges if probe into Afghanistan war crimes proceeds, September 10, 2018. /TWITTER

The United States on Monday will adopt an aggressive posture against the International Criminal Court, threatening sanctions against ICC judges if they proceed with an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Americans in Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, is to make the announcement in a midday speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative group, in Washington. It will be his first major address since joining the Trump White House.

"The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," Bolton will say, according to a draft of his speech seen by Reuters.

Bolton will also say that the State Department will announce the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington out of concern about Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel.

"The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel," says Bolton's draft text.

The Palestinians said they were undeterred from going to the ICC. They deemed the planned PLO mission closure a new pressure tactic by a Trump administration that has slashed funding to a U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees and to hospitals in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as capital of a future state.

"We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to U.S. threats and bullying," Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

"Accordingly, we continue to call upon the International Criminal Court to open its immediate investigation into Israeli crimes."

Israel welcomed the Trump administration's move and accused the Palestinians of seeing the court as a way of sidestepping U.S.-sponsored bilateral talks. Those contacts stalled in 2014.

"The Palestinians' resort to the ICC and refusal to negotiate with Israel and the United States is not the way to advance peace, and it is good that the United States is taking a clear stand on this matter," said an Israeli official who requested anonymity.

Bolton's draft speech says the Trump administration "will fight back" if the ICC proceeds with opening an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by U.S. service members and intelligence professionals during the war in Afghanistan.

If such an inquiry goes ahead, the Trump administration will consider banning judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, put sanctions on any funds they have in the U.S. financial system and prosecute them in American courts.

"We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us," says Bolton's draft text.

In addition, the United States may negotiate more binding, bilateral agreements to prohibit nations from surrendering Americans to The Hague-based court, says the text.

The court's aim is to bring to justice the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The United States did not ratify the Rome treaty that established the ICC in 2002, with then-President George W. Bush opposed to the court. Bush's successor, President Barack Obama, took some steps to cooperate with it.

"We will consider taking steps in the U.N. Security Council to constrain the court’s sweeping powers, including to ensure that the ICC does not exercise jurisdiction over Americans and the nationals of our allies that have not ratified the Rome Statute," says Bolton's draft text.

Palestinians have reacted with dismay to the U.S. funding cuts, warning that they could lead to more poverty and anger - among factors stoking their decades of conflict with Israel.

Trump last week ordered that $25 million earmarked for the care of Palestinians in East Jerusalem be directed elsewhere.

"This decision will create serious cash-flow problems at the hospitals and will necessarily create delays in life-saving and other urgent treatments," Walid Nammour, head of the network of six hospitals affected, told reporters on Monday. "Overall, the decision puts the health of 5 million Palestinians at risk."

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