(Editor’s Note: This article is part of our new symposium on the ICC and the Israel-Hamas war.)

Press coverage of an exchange between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday has created what appears to be an incomplete understanding of the Biden administration’s approach to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s decision to seek arrest warrants for senior Israeli officials and Hamas leaders. (See analysis of the Prosecutor’s action in our ongoing symposium here).

Indeed, only a few years ago, the Biden administration saw the wisdom and success in lifting sanctions on the Court as the best measure to protect U.S. interests. On April 2, 2021, the day of revoking the Trump era sanctions, Blinken issued a statement. He explained:

“[T]he measures adopted were inappropriate and ineffective. We continue to disagree strongly with the ICC’s actions relating to the Afghanistan and Palestinian situations. … We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed through engagement with all stakeholders in the ICC process rather than through the imposition of sanctions.”

In his executive order lifting the sanctions, President Joe Biden likewise stated: “The threat and imposition of financial sanctions against the Court, its personnel, and those who assist it are not an effective or appropriate strategy for addressing the United States’ concerns with the ICC” (emphasis added).

If you read global headlines and news coverage of Blinken’s remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see examples below), you would likely think he expressed clear support for a congressional effort to sanction the Court.

Instead, Blinken’s remarks leave a great deal of room for off-ramps, diplomacy, and constructive engagement with the Court. Below is a video of his remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a transcript in which we highlight important phrases that have been largely overlooked – including Blinken’s emphasis on finding an “appropriate response” and lauding the Biden policy of “lifting sanctions” against the Court as the approach that worked effectively to protect U.S. service members.

Those remarks also help put into context a brief exchange between Blinken and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the same day. Graham asked, “Will you support [a] bipartisan effort to sanction the ICC, not only for the outrage against Israel but to protect in the future our own interests?” “I welcome working with you on that,” the nation’s top diplomat replied.

While the nature, and scope, of the administration’s actions in response to the Prosecutor’s announcement remain to be seen, it would at least be premature – if not inaccurate – to assume that an embrace of sanctions against the Court will feature in that response.


I have to say, yes, 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. We’ll continue to forge ahead to do that, but that decision, as you said, on so many levels, is totally wrongheaded. And we’ll be happy to work with Congress, with this committee, on an appropriate response.

In short, let’s look at it. We want to work with you on a bipartisan basis to find an appropriate response. I’m committed to doing that. As you say, the devil’s in the details. So let’s see what you’ve got, and we can take it from there. But I think from our perspective, going back, in lifting sanctions that were previously implemented, the intent, the purpose, was to protect our service members who served in Afghanistan, and we believe that we did that. But given the events of yesterday, I think we have to look at the appropriate steps to take, to deal with, again, what is a profoundly wrongheaded decision.

Examples of mistaken headlines:

Readers may also be interested in Ambassador Todd F. Buchwald, The ICC Arrest Warrants: A Strong U.S. Reaction Should Not Include Sanctions, Just Security, (May 22, 2024)

Image credit: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifying before Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 21, 2024 in Washington (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)