BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union on Wednesday defended its decision to ask aspiring EU members not to sign agreements with Washington that would protect U.S. troops from prosecution by a new international war crimes court. The United States had said it was "inappropriate."
As many as 10 countries -- mostly former communist states of Eastern Europe -- want to join the 15-nation EU and must dovetail their foreign policy with that of the EU.
One of them, Romania, agreed this month not to turn over U.S. citizens to the new court. After that, the EU's executive commission asked other candidate nations to await an EU-wide decision on the U.S. request.
"Any suggestion that EU candidate countries hold off their decisions until the European Union looks at this, that's, in our view, inappropriate," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Tuesday.
However, EU officials said the request was appropriate because of the requirement for candidate countries to adapt their policies to those of the Union as a condition for membership.
EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the EU request at a meeting Aug. 30-31.
The United States has refused to accept the International Criminal Court, fearing its troops could face prosecution for actions in peacekeeping operations or combat missions.
The United States fears the court could be abused for purely political purposes.