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Why the Trump administration is attacking the International Criminal Court

In his first official address, national security adviser John Bolton took aim at the International Criminal Court, but also at the Palestine Liberation Organization, announcing the closure of the PLO's office in Washington. Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the connection to Middle East peace efforts, and Bolton’s world view.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, Ambassador John Bolton gave his first official speech as President Trump's national security adviser.

    Bolton spoke to the Federalist Society, the conservative and libertarian organization. And he took aim at the International Criminal Court. But Bolton also targeted the Palestine Liberation Organization. And he announced the closure the PLO's office in Washington.

    Our foreign affairs correspondent, Nick Schifrin, was in the room. And he joins us now.

    So, Nick, why are they closing the PLO office?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The main reason that Ambassador Bolton and the State Department said today was Palestinians' use of the International Criminal Court, the ICC.

    The ICC is based in The Hague and is designed to tackle some of humanity's toughest challenges, war crimes, crimes against humanity. The Palestinians have said that they would go to the ICC over Israeli settlements in the West Bank, over seizure of Israeli property, over what Palestinian officials call Israelis' use of force inside of the West Bank.

    That's number one. Number two reason why the U.S. says that it's closing the PLO office here is that the Palestinians aren't being helpful when it comes to peace talks and peace efforts.

    Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, the two advisers to President Trump who are creating a peace plan, the Palestinians have refused to meet them since the U.S. moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a few months ago. And they have also been disparaging some of the work that the two of them have done, even though that work isn't done.

    And so what you heard Bolton say today is that, one, the ICC, the International Criminal Court, shouldn't be investigating what he called Israeli housing projects, not settlements, and, two, that the — that the office here in Washington had blocked efforts toward peace.

  • John Bolton:

    The Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.

    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.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    I talked to Ambassador Husam Zomlot, the ambassador to the U.S. for the Palestinians.

    He said, look, this is not going to change our behavior. We are going to take the Israelis to the ICC. And we're going to continue not to help Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt's peace effort.

    And he later released a statement saying, "We stand firm in our decision not to cooperate in this ongoing campaign to liquidate our rights and cause. Our rights or not for sale. We will block any attempts at booing and blackmailing us."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Nick, this reveals not just frustration about what's going on right now, but longstanding frustrations with the Palestinians.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Longstanding frustrations and real frustrations with the Trump administration over the last few months, one, the move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and President Trump saying, well, we took Jerusalem off the table.

    Palestinians, of course, want Jerusalem, East Jerusalem as a future capital. Number two, $200 million in humanitarian aid being canceled by the U.S. administration that went to things like hospitals in East Jerusalem that provided cancer treatment, for example. The Palestinian Authority can't provide that treatment, and those hospitals have lost that money.

    And, number three, $300 million for UNRWA, the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees, again, providing schools, health care, things that no one else in the West Bank or Gaza can provide. Now, U.S. and Israel say that those UNRWA schools, those U.N. schools, were being used by Hamas to house rockets, and also that that organization was kind of skewing the definition of a refugee.

    In the past, the U.S. has provided aid and separately hoped for a political solution. Palestinians believe that this is the U.S. taking away aid to blackmail them and force them toward a political solution.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So where does this negotiation stand? We haven't seen any peace plan, have we?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We have not seen any peace plan.

    U.S. officials are hoping to release something by the end of the year. And they describe a different approach. Rather than a blueprint for talks, negotiation between two sides, they really are going to release a robust, significant long peace plan. And a lot of it has to do with economic incentives for the Palestinians, rather necessarily than answering every Palestinian grievance.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you were saying that Bolton spent most of his time talking about the International Criminal Court, the ICC.

    What is this — what's behind this?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This is part of John Bolton's world view. It really is, that states are the most important body in the international arena, and states should never give up any sovereignty ever, especially to any kind of international organization.

    And the way to have influence in the world is not through allies. It's not through alliances. It's not through influence and multilateral institutions, but, as he put it today, power.

  • John Bolton:

    The hard men of history or not deterred by fantasies of international law, such as the ICC. Time and again, history has proven that the only deterrent to evil and atrocity is what Franklin Roosevelt once called the righteous might of the United States and its allies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That's pretty direct. So how does that play out in policy?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It hasn't changed policy dramatically yet.

    But we are seeing Bolton's ideology play out across the administration's foreign policy priorities, threatening the use of force against Syrian President Assad and his ally Russia if there's another chemical weapons attack inside of Syria, threatening European countries, European allies, if they try and help Iran, basically calling their bluff, saying that they don't have the military, economic or political way to convince Iran to stay inside the nuclear deal.

    And in North Korea. North Korea needs to give up all of its nuclear weapons before the U.S. gives in very much. That is Bolton's philosophy. North Korea and, frankly, South Korean officials say that's not how it should work. We will take steps if you take steps.

    That's what the Koreans say. That's not a philosophy that John Bolton adheres to.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nick Schifrin, we thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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