The European Union says its members are free to negotiate deals with the United States.
EU compromises on international court
The European Union says its members are free to negotiate deals with the United States to give American troops limited immunity from the new International Criminal Court.
But EU foreign ministers have agreed a set of guidelines for any bilateral agreements struck by member states that exempt US troops from prosecution before the war-crimes court.
Per Stig Moeller, the foreign minister of Denmark, which holds the rotating EU presidency, denied that the new rules would water down the international tribunal.
"There is no concession," he said. "There is no undermining of the International Criminal Court."
British officials say their country will shortly begin negotiations with the United States on an agreement not to hand over certain categories of American citizen to face the new court.
The officials said any bilateral immunity agreement would follow the new EU guidelines, which were announced on Monday after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.
Italy, another of US President Bush's staunchest allies in Europe, is also expected to look into signing an agreement.
Mr Moeller said EU member states will be allowed to make bilateral deals with the US, as long as the arrangements:
- apply only to US soldiers or officials sent abroad;
- include agreement from the US that Americans accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity will be dealt with by US courts;
- And are not reciprocal, so that EU citizens are not granted immunity in return.
Correspondents say this position is an attempt to bridge the gap between the US, which wants to ensure that none of its citizens is ever prosecuted by the new ICC, and the Europeans, who want to strengthen the court's credibility.
Meets US demands?
But it was unclear if the guidelines would satisfy the Bush administration, the BBC's Oana Lungescu reports from Brussels.
Diplomats say the EU's immunity would not cover mercenaries or retired officials.
Washington, fearing politically-motivated trials, has insisted that no American should ever be handed over to the ICC - and has been approaching countries around the world to sign immunity deals.
Twelve non-EU countries - mostly small or poor - have signed such deals so far, promising not to hand over US citizens on their territory to the new court.
Human rights campaigners have accused Britain in particular of being ready to undermine the court, rather than have a serious clash with the US.
Richard Dicker of the New York-based lobby group Human Rights Watch said the EU's compromise "suggests a retreat by the EU from its strong common position for the ICC".
He called on national parliaments to scrutinise any deals their government make with the US "to make sure that those agreements are consistent with the principles" of the court.
Germany, which has recently defied US calls for action in Iraq by insisting it would not participate in any attack there, said it would not be signing any deal with the US on the ICC.
"People are looking to Europe," said the German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer. "What matters is that the Europeans stand together on the basis of a strengthening of the court's statute. What matters to us is not to assuage anyone."
Source: BBC News - Monday, 30 September, 2002, 18:04 GMT 19:04 UK
Full Text of 30Sep02 Conclusions of the Council of the EU on the ICC
International Criminal Court
This document has been published on 30Sep02 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights