The Trump administration threatened tough action against the International Criminal Court should it try to prosecute Americans for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and said the PLO office in Washington would be closed for seeking to punish Israel through the court.
“The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court,” national security adviser John Bolton told the Federalist Society, a conservative group, in his first major address since joining President Donald Trump’s White House in April.
The US response could include sanctions against ICC judges should prosecutions proceed, Bolton warned.
He added the Palestine Liberation Organisation office in Washington was ordered closed out of concern about Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel.
Bolton did not believe the closure of the PLO office would shut the door on a long-delayed Arab-Israeli peace plan Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner has been developing.
He said the plan continued to be refined with an eye on eventually proposing it.
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 slashed funding to a UN agency for Palestinian refugees and to hospitals in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as capital of a future state.
“We reiterate the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, we will not succumb to US threats and bullying,” Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said in a statement.
“We continue to call on the International Criminal Court to open an 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 US-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. It is good the United States is taking a clear stand on this matter,” said an Israeli official requesting anonymity.
‘WILL NOT CO-OPERATE WITH ICC’
Bolton said the Trump administration “will fight back” if the ICC opens an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by US military members and intelligence professionals during the war in Afghanistan.
“The ICC prosecutor requested to investigate these Americans for alleged detainee abuse and perhaps more – an utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation,” he said.
If 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 US financial system and prosecute them in American courts, Bolton said.
“We will not co-operate 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,” he said.
In addition, the United States may negotiate more binding, bilateral agreements to prohibit nations from surrendering Americans to The Hague-based court, Bolton said.
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 Republican President George W. Bush opposed to the court. Bush’s Democratic successor, Barack Obama, took some steps to co-operate with it.
Palestinians reacted with dismay to the US funding cuts, warning they could lead to more poverty and anger – factors stoking decades of conflict with Israel.
Trump last week ordered $25 million earmarked for the care of Palestinians in East Jerusalem be directed elsewhere.
“This decision will create serious cash-flow problems at hospitals and will necessarily create delays in lifesaving and other urgent treatments,” Walid Nammour, head of the six hospitals affected, told reporters. “Overall, the decision puts the health of five million Palestinians at risk.”