WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States edged closer on Tuesday to compliance with the international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines, saying it would abide by key requirements of the 1999 accord everywhere except on the Korean Peninsula.
“Outside of the unique circumstances of the Korean Peninsula, where we have a longstanding commitment to the defense of our ally South Korea, the United States will not use anti-personnel landmines,” President Barack Obama told an audience at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York.
“We will begin destroying our stockpiles not required for the defense of South Korea. And we’re going to continue to work to find ways that would allow us to ultimately comply fully and accede to the Ottawa Convention,” Obama said.
Advocates of the landmine ban welcomed the administration’s efforts to adhere to provisions of the treaty but said there was no justification for seeking an exception for the Korean Peninsula.
“It’s good that the Obama administration continues to inch toward joining the Mine Ban Treaty, but Korean civilians need protections from these weapons just as much as people in every other country,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Goose noted that the United States sought an exception for Korea during negotiations on the treaty in 1997 and was rebuffed by its allies. “A geographic exception to the ban is no more acceptable today than when the treaty was negotiated,” he said.
A 2008 United Nations report said landmines kill 15,000 to 20,000 people every year.
The White House landmines announcement came nearly three months after the United States pledged for the first time it would no longer make or buy anti-personnel landmines and would strive eventually to join the global treaty, which has been accepted by more than 160 countries.
The National Security Council said in a statement the decision on Tuesday meant the United States would no longer use anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula or encourage any country outside the peninsula to engage in activity prohibited by the mine ban.
The United States has a stockpile of some 3 million landmines. It was unclear how many would be destroyed under the new policy and how many would be kept for use if needed on the Korean Peninsula.
The United States stopped using long-life anti-personnel mines in 2011 and agreed to destroy its stockpile of 1.3 million of them. It maintains a supply of so-called smart landmines that can deactivate or self-destruct.
The United States has not produced landmines since the late 1990s. Since the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. forces are known to have used anti-personnel mines only once, a single mine in Afghanistan in 2002, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.
The 1999 Ottawa Convention prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. While backed by most countries, the treaty has not been endorsed by the United States, Russia, China and India.
Reporting by David Alexander, Editing by G Crosse and Ken Wills