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No U.S. military aid for 35 nations

Court controversy draws American ire

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WASHINGTON — The Bush administration on Tuesday suspended all U.S. military assistance to 35 countries 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 this 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, $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," Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said on Tuesday.

President 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 the permanent representative of Jordan to the United Nations.

The original exemption provision passed by Congress in the anti-terrorism law emphasized U.S. service members, but the administration has interpreted it to include all citizens of the United States.

Lincoln P. 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.

Richard Dicker, a director of Human Rights Watch in New York, which has lobbied for the court's creation, said the suspension of military aid on 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," said Dicker. "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 that Tuesday's announcement should not be seen as a permanent freeze on all military aid to these 35 countries.

The aid could be resumed if they signed 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 on Tuesday, based on how much money they had already spent of promised U.S. support during this fiscal year that ends September 30.

Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said the July 1 cutoff would have differing impacts on the countries.

"There may be places where, you know, most of the money has been spent. There may be places where most of the money has not be spent," said Boucher.

One example he cited was Colombia. Of the more than $100 million that the United States was scheduled to give this fiscal year to Colombia in military assistance, only $5 million will be suspended.

"As of today we're suspending the assistance and the provision of defense articles to countries that failed to receive waivers," said Maj. Michael Shavers, a spokesman for the Defense Department. "I can't tell you which countries will be affected because we don't have the list yet."

Among those in limbo could be foreign officers and students preparing to receive professional military training here, as well as governments that were relying on the United States to financing the purchase of U.S. weapons and services.