March 15 (UPI) -- The Trump administration says it will deny entry to the United States to officials from the International Criminal Court because of its investigation of potential U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by law could not specifically name individuals who will be denied visa entry, but he said other restrictions could be added if the ICC persists in the investigation that began in 2017.
"I'm announcing a policy of U.S. visa restrictions on those individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of U.S. personnel," Pompeo said. "We are prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change course."
Pompeo also did not specify how many people are barred from U.S. soil.
The ICC said in response it would continue its "independent work, undeterred, in accordance with its mandate and the overarching principle of the rule of law."
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced the investigation two years ago and said it's looking for evidence of war crimes, like torture, that were committed by military personnel in Afghanistan since 2001. While she didn't target the U.S. military, Bensouda said the inquiry sought "support and cooperation" from the Afghan government, other state parties and the international community as a whole "to accomplish our objectives of ensuring accountability for the crimes committed and that the long-suffering victims of those crimes receive justice."
Pompeo's announcement about the visa bans comes days before he his expected to make a swing through the Middle East. The secretary of state will travel to Beirut, Jerusalem, and Kuwait City from March 19-23.
The trip to Jerusalem comes less than a month before national elections there where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a huge supporter of President Donald Trump and visa verse, will hand his party will be trying to maintain power in the midst of possible bribery indictments.
A State Department release said that Pompeo would meet with Israeli officials on countering Iran in the region and "reaffirming the United States' unwavering commitment to Israel's security" during the trip.