US reassures South Korea as it makes step toward joining international anti-personnel landmines ban
28 June 2014, 03:24 -- The United States Friday reassured South Korea that its tentative step toward joining the international ban on anti-personnel landmines did not mean it would reduce its commitment to defending South Korea. 'Let me just be clear that the announcement today in no way signals a reduction in our commitment or our ability to assist in the defense of our allies in South Korea,' said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden announced in Washington that the US 'will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel landmines in the future, including to replace existing stockpiles as they expire' while it considers joining the treaty.
The US ambassador to Mozambique, Douglas Griffiths, said in Maputo that the US was 'diligently pursuing <...> solutions that would be compliant' with the 1997 treaty and which would 'ultimately allow us to accede' to it, according to a statement from Human Rights Watch. Griffiths made the remarks at a conference in the southern African country of Mozambique to review the Mine Ban Treaty.
The White House acknowledged that the move could raise questions about 'defenses that are in place' in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Defense of South Korea is one of the main reasons the US has given for not agreeing to destroy all its anti-personnel mines - a step it would have to take if it signed the treaty.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the US was 'working very closely' with South Korea on the issue. The US wants to find a way that will allow it to 'continue the robust defense' of South Korea 'while eventually acceding to the Ottawa Convention,' Earnest said.
But US officials made clear that the commitment made Friday was not a definitive statement on the outcome of an ongoing five-year review of US landmine policy. The US is in the midst of carrying out a 'high fidelity modeling and simulation effort' to find out how the military can compensate for the loss of the weapons, Hayden said.
Since the treaty went into effect in 1997, the US has only rarely used landmines and it has not produced more landmines. Harf said that she was aware of only one deployment of a single munition in Afghanistan in 2002. The US is the only NATO member that has not joined the pact. China and Russia have also refused to join.
The US stockpile is estimated at about 9 million self-destructing anti-personnel mines which automatically defuse after a given amount of time, the rights organization said in an e-mailed statement. 'The US has finally come out of the shadows in indicating it intends to join the landmine treaty, and let's hope it will move ahead rapidly to come on board,' said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch.
Goose heads a coalition of more than 400 nongovernmental organizations in the US pushing the government to join the mine ban treaty. 'This is an important acknowledgement that the treaty provides the best framework for achieving a world free of deadly antipersonnel mines,' he said.
The Mine Ban Treaty, the so-called Ottawa Convention, bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines. A total of 161 countries have signed the Mine Ban Treaty that also requires their clearance and aid for victims.
While Hayden said the US 'shares the humanitarian goals of the Ottawa Convention,' HRW's Goose noted that it made 'no sense' for the US to acknowledge the humanitarian cost while 'retaining the option to use them for years to come.'
Former president Bill Clinton had in 1997 committed the US to joining the treaty by 2006, but President George W Bush insisted in 2003 that the mines were essential for national security.
Landmines left over from wars are blamed for thousands of deaths and injuries. In Cambodia, one of the most mine-ridden countries in the world, mines and other unexploded ordnance have killed more than 19000 Cambodians since 1979 and injured more than 44000.
The White House touted that it was the world's single largest financial provider for mine removal, providing more than 2.3 billion dollars since 1993 in more than 90 countries – reports DPA.
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