Washington — In a diplomatic defeat shadowed by the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the United States abandoned Wednesday its efforts in the U.N. Security Council to win immunity for U.S. forces and officials from prosecution in the International Criminal Court.
The decision came after human rights groups -- backed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan -- lobbied heavily against the immunity, and American officials failed to win support for a compromise. Now the immunity for U.S. troops will expire June 30.
The setback marked what may be the first concrete repercussion of the prison-abuse scandal on American foreign relations, one U.S. official said. It was a particularly bitter blow for the Bush administration, which has fiercely opposed the court and conducted a global campaign to make sure no U.S. soldier risks being tried by it.
U.S. diplomats had sought to renew a two-year-old resolution that barred the court from prosecuting soldiers who are part of U.N.-mandated missions and who are sent by countries, including the United States, that are not parties to the Rome Statute, which created the court.
The ICC, based in The Hague, Netherlands, was created by an international agreement in 1998. Former President Clinton signed the treaty establishing the court, but President Bush effectively nullified the U.S. signature, maintaining that Americans do not fall under the court's jurisdiction. Conceding defeat Wednesday, the deputy U.S. envoy to the U.N., James Cunningham, announced in New York that the United States was dropping its pursuit of the resolution "to avoid a prolonged and divisive debate."
The administration threatened to limit its participation in current and future U.N. missions in light of the defeat.
"We will have to take into account the lack of this resolution as we look at our various obligations and the way we proceed overseas. We'll be doing that in coming days," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
The ICC is the world's first permanent tribunal for war crimes. U.S. officials and legal experts say Wednesday's defeat is unlikely to have any impact on American soldiers in Iraq, even those suspected of abusing detainees, since neither Iraq nor the United States is a party to the court.