May 23, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Negotiators eye curbing support to ICC amid sanctions split

Pro-Israel demonstrators are protesting outside a court hearing on the Israel genocide case.

Pro-Israel demonstrators outside a court hearing on the Israel genocide case in The Hague, Netherlands, on Jan. 11. (Photo by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Bipartisan Senate negotiators are weighing decreasing U.S. support for some International Criminal Court programs along with, or potentially instead of, the sanctions that some Democrats oppose, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Lawmakers are split on just how harshly to target the ICC after it decided to seek an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • A group of bipartisan senators are locked in conversations with the Biden administration over a response.
  • Republicans have signaled public support for sanctions, but Democrats have been fractured on the issue.

A softer approach could include targeting U.S. funding for some of the ICC's programs, a government staffer familiar with the talks told Axios.

  • The U.S. is prohibited from contributing directly to the ICC because the government does not recognize its authority or jurisdiction. But the U.S. has eased some of its restrictions on indirect support for the court and its member states over the last two decades.
  • Hence, the U.S. effectively does currently provide some support and assistance to the court, the government staffer said.

Behind the scenes: There are concerns that sanctions against the ICC or any of its officials — especially if they are wide ranging — could lead to unintended consequences on U.S. interests, the government staffer said.

  • Those interests include the ICC's investigation into Russia and Ukraine, which has resulted in the court issuing an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who is involved in the talks, told Axios that sanctions "might be seen as interfering with the court process."

A White House official told Axios that the administration is holding conversations on a bipartisan basis with both the House and the Senate to explore a response to the ICC move, which the president described as "outrageous"

  • The official stressed, though, that no decision has been made.

Flashback: The Trump administration handed down sanctions to ICC officials in 2020 because of its investigation into U.S. military officials' actions in Afghanistan.

  • The Biden administration revoked the sanctions in 2021.

Catch up quick: The ICC earned itself near-universal condemnation from lawmakers for its decision to seek an arrest warrant for Netanyahu.

  • Democrats have been increasingly critical of Netanyahu for his handling of the war in Gaza, but most rushed to denounce the ICC's move.
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