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U.S. Ends Military Aid to 35 Countries
Tue Jul 1, 3:01 PM ET Add Top Stories - Reuters to My Yahoo!
By Jonathan Wright
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday it was cutting off military aid to 35 countries, including Colombia and six nations seeking NATO (news - web sites) membership, because they back the International Criminal Court and have not exempted Americans from possible prosecution.
Another dozen countries were also prohibited from receiving U.S. military aid but they had not been getting any this year.
The decision to suspend aid is the latest attack by the Bush administration on the international court, set up last year to try war crimes and acts of genocide.
The United States signed the 1998 treaty creating the court. But the Bush administration is afraid the tribunal in The Hague (news - web sites), Netherlands, backed by most European countries, might hear politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. military and civilian leaders.
The suspension affects $47 million in U.S. foreign military financing and $613,000 in international military and educational training in this fiscal year, which expires on Sept. 30, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Under last year's American Service Members Protection Act, the basis for the suspension, President Bush (news - web sites) can issue waivers for governments that sign the exemption deals or when he think military aid is in the national interest.
Bush issued waivers for 22 countries on Tuesday as the deadline passed for governments to sign exemption agreements.
But those 22 did not include Colombia, one of the largest aid recipients, and the eastern European countries of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The United States had already disbursed most of the military aid for this year so the real effect will not come to light until the start of the new fiscal year in October.
In the meantime, the Bush administration hopes that some of the 35 countries will sign bilateral Article 98 agreements exempting U.S. personnel from prosecution in the court.
DRUGS AND NATO EXPANSION
Out of the seven countries invited to join NATO, only Romania has signed an Article 98 agreement with Washington.
Colombia, where the government is fighting leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers, was allocated about $100 million in military aid this year and has already received all but $5 million of that, Boucher told a briefing.
Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch, said the suspension of aid worked against some of the Bush administration's other policy goals, such as intercepting drugs in the Caribbean and expanding NATO into eastern Europe.
"This campaign has brought resentment and bitterness from some of the U.S. government's closest allies and comes at an extraordinarily high price," Dicker told Reuters.
But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer (news - web sites) indicated that the Bush administration would not compromise on the court.
"This is a reflection of the United States' priorities to protect the men and women in our military," he said.
"If delivering aid to those states endangers America's servicemen and servicewomen, the president's first priority is with the servicemen and servicewomen," he added.
The United States had hoped that the threat to withdraw aid would bring a last-minute rush to sign Article 98 agreements.
Altogether 44 governments have publicly acknowledged signing the agreements and at least seven others have signed secret agreements, U.S. officials say.
The pace of signatures does appear to have picked up a little. About 25 governments have signed in the last four months, about half of those in the last three weeks.