U.S. still undecided on joining landmines treaty

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has still not decided whether it will sign a 1997 global treaty to ban land mines but said on Tuesday it has invested heavily to help mitigate the impact the weapons have around the world.

Releasing the State Department’s annual review on the destruction of conventional weapons, a senior official acknowledged that a review of U.S. landmines policy -- which has been ongoing since last year -- is not yet complete.

The United States has not signed the Mine Ban Treaty or a global treaty banning cluster munitions, despite what it says are world-leading efforts to provide assistance for the clearance of landmines as well as the destruction of unsecured weapons and munitions.

“Just because we haven’t signed those treaties doesn’t mean we don’t understand the humanitarian effects of those type of munitions,” said Brigadier General Thomas Masiello, deputy assistant secretary for political and military affairs. “And that’s why the United States (is) the largest contributor to both demining and conventional weapons destruction.”

He said the United States had provided more than $1.5 billion since 1993 to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance and treat accident victims. In 2009 it gave $130 million in aid to 32 countries, he said.

But many want more than just money. Activists and groups of U.S. senators have urged the Obama administration to sign the Mine Ban Treaty which bars the use, stockpiling, production or transfer of antipersonnel mines. It has been endorsed by 158 countries, but the United States, Russia, China and India are among the countries that have not adopted it.

The United States generally abides by the provisions of the 1997 treaty. It has not used antipersonnel mines since the 1991 Gulf War, has not exported any since 1992 and has not produced them since 1997, according to Human Rights Watch.


But the United States still has a large stockpile of about 10 million mines, which would contravene the accord.

For the United States to join the treaty, two-thirds of the Senate must approve. A group of 68 senators -- enough to approve joining the accord -- sent a letter to Obama in May expressing support for a ban on antipersonnel mines.

Last week activists in Geneva also urged the United States and other major powers to join a global treaty banning cluster munitions that went into force on August 1. The weapons are dropped from aircraft or fired from artillery or rockets and scatter bomblets over a wide area.

Cluster bombs often fail to detonate immediately and can explode years after a conflict. They have killed or maimed civilians in countries like Laos, Kosovo and Lebanon, humanitarian groups said recently.

In its annual weapons destruction report, the United States mentioned the danger of unexploded landmines and other weapons in post-conflict battlefields and said in active war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan they can be transformed into improvised explosive devices.

“National governments, agencies and domestic and international organizations must have the funding, training and flexibility to mitigate these threats,” the report said, though it did not explain why the United States did not sign on to the international treaties.

Reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman