Switzerland and Yugoslavia yesterday handed the US new diplomatic rebuffs
by rejecting its attempts to press them into signing bilateral deals to stop the
possibility of Americans appearing before the newly formed International Criminal
Joseph Deiss, the Swiss foreign minister, said the US suggestion would have
undermined the court's authority and the principle of universal justice. "I do
not believe Switzerland should sign this kind of agreement," Mr Deiss said.
"We hope the United States will not impede the work of the court."
The Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, has also turned the US down.
"Those who would enjoy immunity from prosecution would not only sleep soundly,
but would also be encouraged to keep committing crimes," the state news agency
Tanjug reported him as saying.
Mr Kostunica's predecessor, Slobodan Milosevic, is already on trial at the
Hague before the tribunal specially set up for Yugoslavia which predated the formation
of the court, and there is a strong feeling in Belgrade that the US is using double
The two countries responded as the secretary of state, Colin Powell, appealed
to US allies to promise to protect American peacekeepers from the reach of the
"It is a serious matter," Mr Powell said at a news conference. "We have serious
concerns with the ICC."
The Swiss and Yugoslav decisions are the latest events in an extraordinary
and almost subterranean diplomatic conflict that has spread yet more poison into
the relationship between Europe and the US over the past month.
One European diplomat said yesterday: "There is not even an agreement to disagree.
Feelings are very deeply held on both sides of the Atlantic."
The court, based in the Hague, officially came into being on July 1 with a
brief to prosecute individuals accused of violating human rights anywhere in the
world - if their own government does not take action first. The US signed the
Rome treaty setting up the court but has failed to ratify it.
The UN security council has agreed to give US soldiers taking part in peacekeeping
operations a year's grace before they would have to be handed over to the court.
The court's supporters believe the chances of any American being in this position
are close to zero: if a GI were accused of war crimes, the US would be certain
to investigate the matter first.
However, America responded to what seemed to be a face-saving deal by demanding
that other countries sign private agreements to exempt US citizens completely.
They have also threatened to withdraw military aid from any country that refuses
to comply. Nato members and other important strategic allies are exempt from the
So far only two countries have agreed to the deal - Israel and Romania. The
Romanian foreign minister, Mircea Goana, said afterwards that he regretted not
consulting the EU first, after the president of the European Commission, Romano
Prodi, made known his displeasure.
Romania is anxious to join both the EU and Nato. The US linked the agreement
with support for Romanian membership of Nato, but Romania now fears it may have
compromised its European ambitions. Other countries may face similar dilemmas.
The US state department spokesman, Philip Reeker, said the administration was
obliged to stop military aid to countries that did not accede to their demands
under a newly enacted law, the American Service Members Protection Act, which
gives the president the authority to take "all means necessary and appropriate
to release citizens arrested by the court". Some critics claim this could mean
the invasion of the Netherlands.
· The Netherlands yesterday began freezing assets belonging to
Philippine Communist party members living there in exile, at the request of the
US, which has put the group on a "terrorist" blacklist.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002