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November 25, 2009

Leahy Blasts Pres. Obama on Refusal to Sign Landmine Ban Treaty

UPDATED AT 4:45 PM — Obama administration backs away from statement that it won't sign international landmine treaty (see below).

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy is blasting Pres. Barack Obama's decision to refuse to sign a 10-year-old international treaty banning land mines.

The decision, which supports the position of the previous administration, comes as representatives of nations around the world meet this coming week in Cartagena, Colombia, to assess compliance with the decade-old treaty.

“This is a default of U.S. leadership and a detour from the clear path of history,” Leahy said in a statement.  “The United States is the most powerful nation on earth. We don't need these weapons and most of our allies have long ago abandoned them."

For two decades Leahy has been a leading voice in Congress advocating an international ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines. Leahy-backed legislation, which included the world’s first export ban on landmines, was a catalyst in launching the treaty effort.

In 1997, the year the international treaty was signed in Ottawa, Canada, Vermonter Jody Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize along with the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. The treaty went into effect two years later.

"It is a lost opportunity for the United States to show leadership instead of joining with China and Russia and impeding progress," Leahy said. "The United States took some of the earliest and most effective steps to restrict the use of landmines. We should be leading this effort, not sitting on the sidelines.”

Leahy said the Obama administration’s review “can only be described as cursory and half-hearted.”

The State Department announced the decision Tuesday during a briefing with reporters.

"We made our policy review, and we determined that we would not be able to meet our national defense needs, nor our security commitments to our friends and allies, if we sign this convention," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters according to a transcript of his daily press briefing.

Earlier this year, Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe invited Pres. Obama to attend the Second Review Conference of the Ottawa Convention in Cartagena, said Kelly. The United States will send observers and humanitarian experts to the convention from various federal departments.

The U.S. remains one of roughly 37 nations in the world that haven't signed on to the treaty. In all, 156 countries have signed it.

Even though it will not sign the treaty, Kelly said the U.S. will continue to financially support humanitarian efforts dedicated to clearing countrysides of mines and helping victims.

"The U.S. is proud to be the world’s single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action. Since 1993, the U.S. has provided more than $1.5 billion worldwide, dedicated to building new partnerships with more than 50 post-conflict countries and supporting efforts by dozens of NGOs to promote stability and set the stage for recovery and development through mine clearance and conventional weapons destruction programs," Kelly added.

From 1999 to 2008, Landmine Monitor identified 73,576 casualties in 119 countries and regions. Data collection is poor in many countries, so the actual number of casualties is most likely far higher. In 2008, more than 5000 people were killed by landmines — many of them children.

Landmine Monitor is a collaborative effort by five groups: Mines Action Canada, Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, Landmine Action and Norwegian People’s Aid.

* * * UPDATE * * *

Just received an email from Sen. Leahy's office alerting me to an Associated Press report claiming that State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly is now backtracking on his statement claiming the administration would not sign onto an international treaty banning the use of landmines.

According to the AP report, Kelly issued a new statement today claiming the administration is still reviewing its overall landmine policy.

The AP report noted that the administration's about-face on the decision came after Leahy's pointed criticism.

Sounds like time for Pres. Obama to give back his Nobel peace prize.

In one eight-hour period, I learn Obama will announce the # for the troop escalation on 12/1, then swoop down to pick up the Peace prize a week later. I also read this blog, where Patrick Leahy blasts Obama for his refusal to sign the Landmine Ban Treaty. I feel like I'm back in the Bush this the promised change? Obama, how dare you accept that prize? What are you thinking?!


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