James Cunningham, the US deputy ambassador, made the announcement on Wednesday after Security Council members turned down his compromise to renew an exemption from the International Criminal Court for one year only.

Last year's resolution expires on 30 June.

"We believe that our draft and its predecessors fairly meet the concerns of all," he said. "Not all council members agree, however, and the United States has decided not to proceed
further with consideration and action on the draft at this time in order to avoid a prolonged and divisive debate."

The court, which started operating a year ago in The Hague, Netherlands, was created to try individuals for the world's worst atrocities - genocide, war crimes and systematic human rights abuses - in a belated effort to fulfil the promise of the Nazi war crimes trials after the second world war.

Last resort

It is a tribunal of last resort and would only try cases of individuals from a country that refused or was unable to press charges, making it highly unlikely someone from the United States would be prosecuted.

It is unlikely that US soldiers
would be brought to trial

But the Bush administration, backed by Congress, opposes any international court having jurisdiction over US officials and fears politically motivated prosecutions.

"We are after all the largest contributor to global security and have special well-known interests in protecting our forces and our officials," Cunningham told reporters.

The United States in 2002 began to veto UN peacekeeping missions when the council delayed adopting the resolution, but would not say if this would now be the case. In the past two years, Washington has signed 90 bilateral agreements with countries that pledge not to prosecute US officials abroad.

Washington has rarely faced such opposition in the council, with the notable exception of its attempt to get UN endorsement for the invasion of Iraq last year. Since then, the council has backed the Bush administration in Iraq, despite the prisoner scandal.

Abu Ghraib not forgotten

But the US abuse of prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib jail made it difficult for members to extend the resolution for the third time, even though the scandal would not come before the new tribunal.

Algeria's UN ambassador, Abd Allah Bali, said the abuse "had a strong impact on many delegations" as did appeals by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that "made many countries hesitate".

"We believe that
our draft and its predecessors fairly
meet the concerns of all. Not all council members agree, however,
and the United States has decided not to proceed further with consideration and
action on the draft at
this time in order to avoid a prolonged and divisive debate"

James Cunningham,
US deputy ambassador

Annan last week asked the council to reject the measure, saying it undermined international law and sent an "unfortunate signal any time - but particularly at this time".

A resolution needs a minimum of nine "yes" votes for adoption in the 15-member council but the United States could be sure of support from only Britain, the sole European Union member prepared to vote in favour, as well as Russia, Angola, the Philippines and Pakistan, diplomats said.

All others, including Germany, France, Spain, China, Brazil, Romania, Benin, Chile and Algeria, signalled they would abstain or were leaning in that direction.

The resolution would have extended immunity from the court to all nations not among the 94 countries that have ratified a 1998 treaty establishing the court.

It would exempt from prosecution all military and civilian personnel "related to a UN-authorised operation".