Blinken to work with Congress on ICC move  


Secretary of State called the move “profoundly wrong-headed” and said it would complicate the prospects of reaching a hostage deal and a ceasefire with Hamas…reports Asian Lite News

The Biden administration is willing to work with Congress to respond to the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders over the Gaza war, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday, amid Republican calls for US sanctions against court officials.

Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Blinken called the move “profoundly wrong-headed” and said it would complicate the prospects of reaching a hostage deal and a ceasefire in Israel’s conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said on Monday he had reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s defense chief and three Hamas leaders “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Both President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and his political opponents have sharply criticized Khan’s announcement, arguing the court does not have jurisdiction over the Gaza conflict and raising concerns over process.

The United States is not a member of the court, but has supported past prosecutions, including the ICC’s decision last year to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine.

“We’ll be happy to work with Congress, with this committee, on an appropriate response” to the ICC move, Blinken said on Tuesday.

He did not say what a response to the ICC move might include.

In a later hearing, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Blinken he hoped to work together with the administration to express the United States’ opposition to the ICC prosecutor.

“What I hope to happen is that we level sanctions against the ICC for this outrage, to not only help our friends in Israel but protect ourself over time,” said Graham.

Republican members of Congress have previously threatened legislation to impose sanctions on the ICC, but a measure cannot become law without support from President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats, who control the Senate.

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration accused the ICC of infringing on US national sovereignty when it authorized an investigation into war crimes committed in Afghanistan. The US targeted court staff, including then-prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, with asset freezes and travel bans.

Support on Capitol Hill appears to be coalescing around a bill launched earlier this month by Texas Republican Chip Roy.

The Illegitimate Court Counteraction Act would target ICC officials involved with the case by blocking their entry to the US, revoking any current US visas they hold, and prohibiting them from any property transactions within the country – unless the court ceases its cases against “protected persons of the United States and its allies”.

At least 37 lawmakers in the Republican-led House are now co-sponsoring the legislation, including Elise Stefanik, the chamber’s third highest-ranking Republican.

Stefanik is fresh off a visit to Israel, where she met with Mr Netanyahu, spoke at the Knesset and met with the families of hostages trapped in Gaza.

The court “equivocates a peaceful nation protecting its right to exist with radical terror groups that commit genocide”, she told the BBC in a statement.

Andy Barr of Kentucky, another Republican supporting the bill, said further pursuit of the ICC’s case against Israel must “be met with the full force of our sanctions”.

Less clear, however, is whether Democratic lawmakers will get behind the effort.

The party’s moderate and liberal wings have grappled with Mr Biden’s Israel policy for months, as young progressive voters have pushed the president to more sharply criticise the Netanyahu government’s operations in Gaza.

Ohio’s Greg Landsman, one of a few Democrats who voted last week to reverse Mr Biden’s pause on a weapons shipment to Israel, told the BBC he hopes Congress will issue a bipartisan rebuke of the ICC “to send the strongest message possible”.

“The decision [to seek arrest warrants] will only further inflame tensions and divisions, embolden anti-Israel conspiracies, and ultimately, it will undermine the credibility of the ICC,” he said in a statement.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson urged Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, to sign a letter on Tuesday inviting Mr Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of Congress.

In March, Schumer called for new elections in Israel but he described the ICC’s case on Monday as “reprehensible”.

Sen Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that he was unsure about moves to sanction ICC officials.

“I’m not there yet imposing sanctions on the ICC, as opposed to looking to see whether the off ramp of a ruling by the judges of the ICC that they’re not going to proceed with warrants is something I think may come in the next couple of days,” the Democrat said.

But Coons added that he is discussing taking action with his committee colleagues from both parties.

But some left-wing Democrats have expressed their support for the ICC’s actions. Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said the court’s allegations are “significant” and the US must support its work as it has done on past occasions, including in the case of Libya. 

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