Exclusive-Trump foreign policy adviser urges sanctions on ICC officials after meeting Netanyahu

FILE PHOTO: An exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

By Gram Slattery

(Reuters) - The United States should slap sanctions on International Criminal Court officials who seek an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a top foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Tuesday after meeting the Israeli leader.

Robert O'Brien, who served as Trump's fourth and final national security adviser, made the comments in a Jerusalem interview with Reuters after meeting Netanyahu and other Israeli officials during a multi-day visit to the U.S. ally.

O'Brien, who said Trump would be briefed on the results of the trip, discussed what he called the ICC's "irrational decision" to issue a warrant for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, along with three Palestinian Hamas leaders, in his meetings with the Israeli officials.

"We can sanction the bank accounts, the travel. We can put visa restrictions on these corrupt prosecutors and judges. We can show some real mettle here," O'Brien told Reuters from Jerusalem.

O'Brien was joined by former U.S. Ambassador to the UAE John Rakolta and former Ambassador to Switzerland Ed McMullen.

The trip, first reported by Reuters, was a rare case of Trump allies traveling abroad as part of an organized delegation to meet foreign officials. It took place amid strains between Israel and the Biden administration about the U.S. Middle East ally's conduct of the war in Gaza.

In addition to Netanyahu, the delegation met in recent days with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, and Gallant, O'Brien said. Their itinerary did not include Palestinian leaders.

O'Brien said rescuing all remaining hostages held by Hamas and capturing Yahya Sinwar, the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that prompted Israel's Gaza offensive, would be key to declaring victory over the militant group.

"This is something I did share with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and President Herzog and Benny Gantz from the war cabinet: We've got to move quickly," O'Brien told Reuters. "Israel has to defeat Hamas in Rafah."

The group said they did not go to Israel at Trump's behest.

But O'Brien, Rakolta and McMullen all speak regularly to Trump who, despite facing four criminal trials, is ahead of his Nov. 5 presidential election rival, Democratic President Joe Biden, in opinion polls in most battleground states.

In addition to meeting political leaders, members of the delegation traveled to areas of Israel that were targeted in the Hamas attack in October, including the site of the Nova Music Festival and the Nir Oz kibbutz, both near Gaza.


More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's seven-month-old assault on the Gaza Strip, according to health officials in the Hamas-ruled enclave. The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 253 others, according to Israeli tallies. Israel says that more than 100 hostages are still being held in Gaza, including several Americans.

On Monday, the ICC's prosecutor in The Hague, Karim Khan, requested the warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant and three Palestinian leaders, alleging they had committed war crimes.

In the Reuters interview, O'Brien said he was throwing his support behind Republican-led legislation in Congress that would sanction ICC employees that investigate officials in the U.S. or in allied countries that do not recognize the court, like Israel.

It was unclear how much bipartisan support that bill could garner, though both Democratic and Republican officials have been sharply critical of the ICC.

In 2020, Trump issued an executive order to restrict travel and freeze assets of court staff involved in investigating U.S. conduct in Afghanistan, sanctions which were reversed in the opening months of the Biden administration.

O'Brien's comments suggest Trump's advisers would be willing to reimpose and expand sanctions should the former president return to the White House. While the U.S. has at times engaged with the ICC in a limited fashion, it has never been a member of the court, and many U.S. political leaders argue the ICC's international jurisdiction threatens national sovereignty.

Throughout the interview, O'Brien, Rakolta and McMullen rejected assessments by many U.S., Palestinian and international officials who say Israel is not doing enough to protect civilian life.

"The Israelis are conducting themselves in a really fine tradition of a modern, humanitarian military, and I think that's the biggest takeaway from the meetings we've had in my view," O'Brien said.

The Biden administration has at times dissented from that view, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying earlier in May that Israel lacked a credible plan to protect civilians in Rafah.

While the Trump administration backed a two-state solution to Middle East conflict, O'Brien said the conflict in Gaza and Palestinians' hostile attitude toward Israel makes discussing it a moot point at the moment.

The U.S. government has long held that the pathway to a lasting peace runs through the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Since Oct. 7, however, Trump has indicated in interviews and on the campaign trail that he is rethinking his stance.

O'Brien and Rakolta played central roles in the Abraham Accords, which normalized bilateral Israeli relations with both Bahrain and the UAE during Trump's term.

They remained interested and hopeful regarding the possibility of normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, though Israel would need to win the war in Gaza before that process could begin in earnest, they said.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery in Washington; Editing by Ross Colvin and Howard Goller)