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US plans to curb land mines, join global treaty

The Obama administration announced Friday that the United States will no longer produce or acquire anti-personnel land mines and plans to join an international treaty banning their use.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the announcement was made by U.S. officials at a conference in Maputo, Mozambique, to review the 15-year-old Ottawa Convention, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of the mines.

Human rights advocates have long pushed the United States to join most of the rest of the world in signing the treaty. President Bill Clinton had a goal of joining the Ottawa Convention, but the Bush administration pulled back from that goal and instead instituted a review of its policy.

"Our delegation in Maputo made clear that we are diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention," Hayden said.

Steve Goose, head of delegation for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, said the U.S. announcement is some progress, since in the past the U.S. has always reserved the right to produce more land mines. He also said it's a positive change for U.S. officials to say they intend to join the treaty, although he noted there's no guarantee or timeline for doing so. And he said the U.S. could still use its stockpile, which he estimates is probably about 9 million land mines in storage around the world.

"While they are saying they are working toward banning them in the future, they are leaving open the option of continuing to use them in the meantime, which is kind of a contradictory way to approach things," Goose said in a telephone interview from the Mozambique conference. "They're bad enough to ban them, but we still want to use them."

Goose said the U.S. should join at least set a target date to join the treaty and immediately pledge not to use land mines and begin destruction of its stockpiles.

The White House did not immediately respond to questions about the size of its stockpile or where the land mines are located. But Goose said the U.S. hasn't produced land mines since 1997 and has none deployed anywhere in the world. He said most are stored in the United States, but some are also likely kept in warehouses in South Korea, Japan and Germany.