Biden administration calls for bipartisan push to sanction ICC

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on state, foreign operations, and related programs hearing at Capitol Hill on May 21, 2024 in Washington, DC. [Getty]

The Biden administration is willing to work with Congress to potentially impose sanctions against International Criminal Court (ICC) officials over the prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders over the war on Gaza, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday. 

At a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Blinken he wanted to see renewed US sanctions on the court in response to the move announced by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan on Monday. 

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

“I want to take actions, not just words,” Graham said to Blinken. “Will you support bipartisan effort to sanction the ICC, not only for the outrage against Israel but to protect in the future our own interest?” 

“I welcome working with you on that,” Blinken responded. 

Khan said in his announcement that he had reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s defence chief and three Hamas leaders “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

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. 

At an earlier hearing on Tuesday, Blinken said he would work with Congress on an appropriate response, calling the ICC’s move “profoundly wrong-headed.” 

It would complicate the prospects of reaching a hostage deal and a ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza, Blinken said. 

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 authorised an investigation into war crimes committed in Afghanistan.  

Biden lifted those sanctions in April 2021 shortly after assuming office. 

“These decisions reflect our assessment that the measures adopted were inappropriate and ineffective,” Blinken said in a statement at the time. 

Congressional Republicans have not confirmed who or what would be implemented with sanctions, however US officials anticipate the sanctions would target Karim Khan and others who played a role in the investigation. 

British-Lebanese lawyer Amal Clooney announced that she was among the legal experts who supported the ICC case in issuing arrest warrants against Netanyahu, Gallant, and three Hamas leaders for crimes in Israel and Palestine. 

The suspected sanctions could be similar to the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on the court’s then leading prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and head of jurisdiction Phakiso Mochochoko. 

The sanctions led to their American assets frozen and a travel ban to the US. 

According to White House press secretary Karine-Jean Pierre, the administration “is having discussions . . . with the [Capitol] Hill on the next steps”. 

As developments unfold following the accusations of war crimes by the ICC, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz visited Paris on Tuesday and met with his French counterpart, Stephane Sejourne. 

France reiterated its support for the world court and the “fight against impunity”- adding that it condemns both Hamas’ 7 October attack and possible violations of international humanitarian law by Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip. 

The office of ICC prosecutor Karim Khan also said on Tuesday that he had backed issuing arrest warrants for Israeli leaders as he had not seen any evidence from Israeli courts investigating alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territory. 

“Despite significant efforts by the prosecutor’s office, he did not receive information from Israel that proves genuine legal processes are taking place to check or investigate the stated crimes,” his office told Israeli broadcaster Channel 12

Press agencies also contributed to this report.

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