The United States will limit its use of antipersonnel mines to the Korean Peninsula and will destroy its other stockpiles, but cannot yet support a total ban because of the “unique circumstances” of the tensions with North Korea, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki described the move as a “significant step forward” toward eliminating land mines, which have been blamed by human rights groups for widespread injuries to civilians and others in areas such as former war zones.
The U.S. refusal to sign an international treaty banning land mines has been criticized as giving political cover for other nations also to opt out such as China, Russia and Israel. In June, the Obama administration announced it would ban the production or acquisition of new land mines.
Psaki said that the United States “remains deeply concerned about the humanitarian effects of antipersonnel land mines” and will destroy U.S. stockpiles not needed to support South Korea, a close U.S. ally. She also said U.S. officials would not assist other nations in producing or acquiring antipersonnel mines.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a network of nongovernmental organizations, welcomed the U.S. announcement but also expressed concern about the exception in South Korea.
The group is “disturbed at the possibility of new use of antipersonnel mines by the United States on Korean soil,” campaign manager Firoz Alizada said in a statement on the group’s Web site. “We fervently hope that the U.S. will also work for the elimination of landmines in Korea as soon as possible and that its ultimate goal of joining the Mine Ban Treaty can be met in the very near future.”
Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman, said the confrontations with North Korea still require mines on the heavily guarded border with the South.
“Even as we take these further steps, the unique circumstances on the Korean Peninsula and our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea preclude us from changing our antipersonnel land mine policy there at this time,” she said.
Psaki said Washington has provided more than $2.3 billion since 1993 to more than 90 countries to help destroy conventional weapons, including land mines.