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Bolton Vows to Not Cooperate with International Criminal Court, Threatens Sanctions

John Bolton speaks at Federalist Society

WASHINGTON -- National Security Advisor John Bolton threatened sanctions against the International Criminal Court, which Bolton opposed long before joining the Trump administration, and hailed the State Department announcement that the D.C. office of the Palestine Liberation Organization would be shut down.

Speaking at a Federalist Society event at the Mayflower Hotel this morning, Bolton slammed the Hague-based ICC as an effort by "self-styled 'global governance' advocates" to override national sovereignty through its investigations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Those indicted by the ICC, which was formed in 2002 by the Rome Statute, have included Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and his son Saif Al-Islam for crimes against humanity, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes in Darfur, and Ugandan guerrilla leader Joseph Kony for crimes against humanity and war crimes. The African Union has urged a mass withdrawal from the ICC over the court's focus on the continent.

"In theory, the ICC holds perpetrators of the most egregious atrocities accountable for their crimes, provides justice to the victims, and deters future abuses. In practice, however, the court has been ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous," Bolton said. "Moreover, the largely unspoken, but always central, aim of its most vigorous supporters was to constrain the United States. The objective was not limited to targeting individual U.S. servicemembers, but rather America’s senior political leadership, and its relentless determination to keep our country secure."

Bolton said the ICC "was created as a free-wheeling global organization claiming jurisdiction over individuals without their consent" and stressed longstanding concerns that American servicemembers could be indicted by the court.

Last November, the ICC prosecutor requested authorization to investigate war crimes and detainee abuse allegations against U.S. servicemembers and intelligence professionals in Afghanistan.

"Today, on the eve of Sept. 11, I want to deliver a clear and unambiguous message on behalf of the president of the United States. The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," Bolton continued. "We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."

Bolton also criticized "a suggestion that the ICC will investigate Israeli construction of housing projects on the West Bank."

"The United States will always stand with our friend and ally, Israel. And, today, reflecting congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an ICC investigation of Israel, the State Department will announce the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization office here in Washington, D.C. As President Reagan recognized in this context, the executive has 'the right to decide the kind of foreign relations, if any, the United States will maintain,' and the Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," he said. "The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self-defense."

The State Department said it had allowed the PLO to continue D.C. operations since their waiver expired last November in hope of furthering a Mideast peace process.

"PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise," press secretary Heather Nauert said in a statement. "As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point."

Palestinian outlets branded the move retribution for Palestinian attempts to push the ICC to open an investigation into Israel.

Husam Zomlot, head of the PLO delegation to the U.S., said in a statement that Trump was "blindly executing Israel's 'wish list'" and said the administration aims to "protect Israel from unlawful acts, and provide it with full immunity to kill the two state-solution."

Steering back to the ICC, Bolton wrapped up his address by vowing that "if the court comes after us, Israel or other U.S. allies, we will not sit quietly."

"We will negotiate even more binding, bilateral agreements to prohibit nations from surrendering U.S. persons to the ICC. And we will ensure that those we have already entered are honored by our counterpart governments," he said. "We will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by U.S. law.  We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans."

"We will take note if any countries cooperate with ICC investigations of the United States and its allies, and we will remember that cooperation when setting U.S. foreign assistance, military assistance, and intelligence sharing levels," Bolton added. "We will consider taking steps in the UN Security Council to constrain the Court’s sweeping powers, including ensuring that the ICC does not exercise jurisdiction over Americans and the nationals of our allies that have not ratified the Rome Statute."