Blinken calls ICC warrants wrongheaded, says they complicate efforts for Israel-Hamas cease-fire deal


(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the International Criminal Court’s application for arrest warrants for Israeli officials and Hamas operatives, saying the court prosecutor’s actions make a “shameful equivalence” between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar.

“That decision … on so many levels is totally wrongheaded,” Blinken told lawmakers Tuesday during a budget hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He said ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan’s filing for warrants has challenged ongoing negotiations to free hostages taken by Hamas and cease an Israeli offensive in Gaza, where the Israel Defense Forces currently threaten Rafah amid Israel’s ongoing military operation in the southern Gaza city.

The ICC on Monday announced it would seek to issue arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Sinwar, another Israeli leader and two other Hamas leaders. Khan alleged they “bear criminal responsibility” for “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Gaza.

The United States and Israel are not signatories to the Rome Statute, which institutionalized the international court and empowers it to prosecute individuals for war crimes.

“I think that there’s still a possibility [of a deal],” Blinken said. “But It’s challenged by a number of events, and I have to say, yes indeed, the extremely wrongheaded decision by the ICC prosecutor yesterday, the shameful equivalence implied between Hamas and the leadership of Israel. I think that only complicates the prospects for getting such an agreement.”

America’s top diplomat said talks “have come very, very close on a number of occasions” and are not dead. “We remain at it,” he told senators Tuesday.

Blinken took questions from senators with a range of views, including Democrats who felt the Biden administration should more directly assess that Israel has committed war crimes, and some Republicans who say the administration is too accommodating to such perspectives. He hedged against ideas the U.S. is not sufficiently upholding its alliance with Israel and others that it’s failing to secure protection for civilians in Gaza.

When Blinken began his testimony, the hearing room erupted with commotion when protesters called Blinken a “war criminal” and visibly startled the secretary.

Later, Idaho Sen. James Risch, the top committee Republican, invited Blinken to work with senators on legislation that reports suggest could sanction the ICC.

“Let’s look at it. We want to work with you,” Blinken told Risch.

“As you say, the devil’s in the details, so let’s see what you got,” he added.

Blinken told lawmakers that peace in Gaza remains complicated by a key diplomatic impasse between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“The Saudis demand a cease-fire in Gaza and a pathway to a Palestinian state, and it may well be that Israel isn’t able, willing to proceed down this pathway,” Blinken said.

Blinken told a separate panel of senators Monday he made contact with the ICC to express his concerns about potential prosecution of Israeli officials.

Netanyahu on Tuesday called the court prosecutor’s plan to apply for arrest warrants “absurd” and said it was casting a “terrible stain” on the court. His country didn’t have a “deliberate starvation policy” and the charges detailed by the ICC prosecutor were “fallacious,” Netanyahu said Tuesday on “Good Morning America.”

“In fact, we have the opposite policy, to allow maximum humanitarian aid to get people out of harm’s way,” he said, “while Hamas is doing everything to keep them in harm’s way at gunpoint.”

The White House said Tuesday it’s in talks with Congress on “next steps” following the ICC’s arrest warrant application, though it would not say if it supported imposing sanctions on the court.

When asked by reporters Tuesday aboard Air Force One if President Joe Biden supported congressional Republicans preparing legislation to sanction the ICC, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre slammed the warrant application but did not directly answer the question.

“The ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israel leaders is outrageous,” Jean-Pierre said. “We fundamentally reject it.”

“So, we’re having discussions, to your questions, with … the Hill on the next steps, so I’m not going to get ahead of those discussions,” Jean-Pierre added.

Biden on Monday called the court’s application “outrageous.”

“And let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas,” Biden said.

ABC News’ Shannon Crawford and Fritz Farrow contributed to this report.

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