Facing worldwide opposition, the United States has retreated from its demand that American peacekeepers be permanently immune from the new war crimes tribunal. U.S. diplomats are instead proposing a yearlong ban on any investigation.

The compromise proposal made Wednesday marked a significant change in the Bush administrations campaign to shield Americans from frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions by the new International Criminal Court.

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Members of the U.N. Security Council have been grappling with a U.S. threat to end U.N. peacekeeping operations, beginning with Bosnias on July 15, if it didnt get blanket immunity. They said the latest U.S. proposal was still unsatisfactory.

Nonetheless, there was widespread relief at Washingtons new willingness to negotiate.

We have all very much welcomed the constructive approach of the U.S. at least to work with the other members, said Mauritius U.N. Ambassador Jagdish Koonjul.

Britains U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, the current council president, called the U.S. proposal a fair basis for discussion and said consultations would continue behind closed doors on Thursday.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte introduced the new draft at the end of a daylong open council meeting, at which the United States faced intense criticism from nearly 40 countries for seeking permanent immunity for American peacekeepers. Only India, which also opposes the court, was somewhat sympathetic to the U.S. position.

Canadas U.N. Ambassador Paul Heinbecker, who requested the open meeting, warned that the United States was jeopardizing the credibility of the Security Council, the legality of international treaties, and the principle that all people are equal and accountable before the law.

The courts supporters accused Washington of threatening peace and stability from the Balkans and East Timor to the Mideast and Africa places where U.N. peacekeepers operate.

The court is the product of a long campaign to create a permanent tribunal to prosecute the most heinous deeds: war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

It came into existence on July 1 with ratifications from 76 countries and signatures from 139.

The United States objects to the idea that Americans could be subject to the courts jurisdiction even if the United States is not a party. Washington says other countries could use this to try American soldiers for war crimes, in effect threatening U.S. sovereignty.

The new U.S. proposal would ban for 12 months any investigations or prosecutions of participants in U.N.-sanctioned peacekeeping operations from countries like the United States that have not ratified the Rome treaty formalizing the court. It also expresses the intention to renew the request … for further 12-month periods for as long as may be necessary.

Under the proposal, any peacekeeper who was exempt from investigation or prosecution for a year could be prosecuted if the exemption was not renewed though no U.N. peacekeeper has ever been charged with a war crime.

We have for one year a total freedom, said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission, who said this was sufficient time to bring any American suspect home, thus out of reach of the court.

What we have been focused on is ensuring that American men and women are not within the reach of the International Criminal Court, he said. What we have been able to offer today … (is) that for a period of 12 months they would have that immunity.

But the U.S. draft still raises serious questions for some council members.

The Rome treaty already allows the Security Council to request a 12-month deferral of investigation or prosecution by the court on a case-by-case basis.

Some council members including France, which has veto power argued that the U.S. draft would change the statutes intent by giving blanket deferral to peacekeepers. Colombias U.N. Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso, also a council member, called the U.S. draft an improvement because it was not in perpetuity.

At the open meeting, nations from the European Union, Latin America, Africa and Asia argued that the Rome treaty has sufficient safeguards to prevent political prosecutions. First and foremost, the court will step in only when states are unwilling or unabl
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