May 21, 2024 - World

Biden administration open to action by Congress against ICC

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill on May 21, 2024 in Washington, DC.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill on May 21, 2024. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken signaled the Biden administration would support bipartisan action in Congress against the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in response to its decision to seek arrest warrants against Israeli leaders.

Why it matters: Blinken's comments at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday reflected the Biden administration's anger and frustration over the prosecutor's decision.

  • Biden administration officials say ICC prosecutor Karim Khan reneged on his commitment to the U.S. to engage directly with the Israeli government before deciding on arrest warrants.
  • "The feeling in the administration is Khan lied to us," one U.S. official said, adding the administration feels deceived.
  • A spokesperson for the ICC prosecutor's office told Axios, the office "has sought to, and will continue to seek to, engage with Israel and all States in its work."

What they're saying: During the hearing, Blinken said the Biden administration is ready to work with Congress "on a bipartisan basis" on "an appropriate response" to the ICC prosecutor's decision to seek arrest warrants against Israeli leaders. The ICC also said it is seeking arrest warrants for Hamas leaders.

  • Blinken said the ICC prosecutor's decision was "wrong-headed" and stressed it harmed efforts to reach a deal between Israel and Hamas to release hostages being held in Gaza and establish a ceasefire in the enclave.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers engaging with the White House about a response said on Tuesday that the ICC's action in applying for arrest warrants "runs contrary to the promotion of rule of law globally. The principle of complementarity should be honored, allowing a nation's legal system to act first."

  • "We will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to strenuously object to the ICC's actions against our ally, Israel, and take appropriate steps to help Israel and protect American personnel from future ICC action," the group said.
  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the group, told Axios he is working with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), on possible action against the ICC in consultation with the White House.
  • Cardin said he wasn't sure if the response would be sanctions, and that the bipartisan group of lawmakers will continue conversations with the administration about a possible response.
  • John Fetterman (D-Penn.), who is also part of the group, told Axios he would be in favor of sanctions against the ICC.

Behind the scenes: Weeks before Kahn announced he sought warrants, he met with several senators who raised concerns about reports Khan planned to seek them, according to a source with knowledge of the call.

  • The source said Democratic senators on the call complimented Khan on his track record and said they hoped the rumors about his planned move were false.
  • Republican senators on the call told Khan that usurping Israel's judicial system would only help authoritarian governments.
  • Khan made a commitment on the call that he would give Israel a chance to meet with ICC representatives to make their case heard.

Graham, who wrapped up the call earlier this month, told Khan in "direct" and "fiery" language there would be geopolitical repercussions of arrest warrants, including hurting any chance for normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel, the source said.

  • "Instead of the ICC following through with scheduled consultations with Israel, they announced the warrants," Graham posted on X. "I feel that I was lied to and that my colleagues were lied to."

Zoom in: In the House, Republican leadership has so far held off on the kind of swift legislative response they gave to Iran's drone attack on Israel last month.

  • A sanctions bill targeting ICC officials has been introduced by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), but "there is an effort" to have the GOP craft more legislation that will appeal more broadly to Democrats, one House Republican told Axios.
  • That would be a marked contrast with most of the Israel-related bills House Republicans have put on the floor since Oct. 7, which have been mostly symbolic "messaging" bills whose main purpose was to divide House Democrats before inevitably dying in the Senate.

The big picture: The UK and Austria responded similar to the U.S. to the ICC announcement.

  • A spokesperson for the United Kingdom prime minister said the ICC's decision "is not helpful in relation to reaching a pause in the fighting, getting hostages out or getting humanitarian aid in."
  • France and Germany both stressed the need to preserve the independence of the prosecutor and the court.
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