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Citing "National Defense Needs," Obama Administration Says it Won't Sign Ban on Land Mines

Stephen Goose, director of Human Rights Watch's arms division, called the decision to keep the Bush-era policy "an appalling decision."

The Obama administration decided not to sign an international convention banning land mines. In response to a question about an upcoming review conference on the mind ban treaty, said DeParle spokesman Ian Kelly said Tuesday that the administration recently completed a review and decided not to change the Bush-era policy.

IAN KELLY: This administration undertook a policy review and we decided our landmine policy remains in effect.



REPORTER: I think we're one of only two nations, and Somalia is about to sign it, right? So we are going to be the only nation in the whole world who doesn't believe in banning landmines. Why is that?

*IAN KELLY: I'm not sure about that. We made our policy review and we determined we would not be able to meet our national defense needs, nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we sign this.

REPORTER #2: So what are you planning to do at the conference then?

IAN KELLY: We are there as ... an observer. Clearly, we have ... as a global provider of security we have an interest in the discussions there, but we will be there as an observer, obviously, because we haven’t signed the convention, nor do we plan to sign the convention.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the first time the Obama administration has publicly disclosed his decision on the treaty which bans the use, stockpiling, production or transfer of antipersonnel mines. 156 countries have ratified the treaty, but 39 others including the U.S., Russia and China have not. The report this month of international campaign to ban landmines found that mines remain planted in more than 70 countries and killed over 1,200 people and wounded nearly 4000 last year. For more on the U.S. position on landmines and what to expect from the summit in Colombia next month, I am joined in Washington, D.C. by Stephen Goose, director of the Human Rights Watch's Arms division and co-founder of the international campaign to ban landmines, which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Stephen welcome to Democracy Now! Your reaction to the Obama administration's decision to follow the Bush administration and not sign onto this treaty?

STEPHEN GOOSE: We really see this as just an appalling decision, an appalling decision that has been based on apparently very flawed decision-making process. It is a decision completely lacking in vision, its lacking in compassion, and frankly lacking in common sense. It shows a lack of political leadership by President Obama on what many, most others see as a crucial global humanitarian issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly how this happened, what was your expectation when President Obama took office? And this latest question raised, in asking the Obama ministration that even Somalia will be signing on, and the response of the Obama administration that this is their commitment to their friends and allies, presumably all of them have signed the treaty?

STEPHEN GOOSE: Well, that was a very confused response and exchange the we just heard at the State Department. Clearly, the State Department spokesperson is not at all familiar with the issue. The questioner and his response were based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, where the U.S. in Somalia are the only two who have not signed that. But, indeed, most of the countries of the world have joined this mine ban treaty and virtually all of the major U.S. allies have done so. Every other NATO country is part of the mine ban treaty. The process that led to this is just an enigma. In essence, this was a stealth-review done in secrecy. So much for the Obama administration emphasis on transparency. They had never even announced a review was under way of land mine policy, and we Human Rights Watch and other non-governmental organizations and some key legislators like Senator Patrick Leahy have been encouraging them, urging them and begging them to undertake a formal review, but they never announced such a process was underway. And then suddenly and a sort of off-the-cuff response to a question yesterday, they say a review has already been completed and they decided to align themselves with the Bush policy of never joining the convention. In fact, the U.S. is the only country that has said it will never join the convention. Even others like Russia and China said it will eventually join.