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U.S. agrees to soften stance on land-mine ban

Mines September 15, 1997
Web posted at: 11:26 p.m. EDT (0326 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Clinton administration has offered to sign a treaty to ban antipersonnel land mines, as long as the United States has the right to maintain mines in Korea for nine years, officials said Monday. The offer represents a major shift in U.S. policy.

Over the weekend, U.S. officials informed allies negotiating a Canada-sponsored treaty to ban land mines that it was willing to sign it and drop a previous demand that a Korean Peninsula exemption be written into the document.

The United States seeks to keep antipersonnel mines in the demilitarized zone in Korea and wants the option of using anti-tank land mines in times of war. The Pentagon views the land mines deployed in Korea as the major deterrent to a North Korean attack on South Korea, where some 37,000 American soldiers are stationed.

Thousands of people, most of them women and children, are maimed or killed every year by land mines, long after the fighting has stopped in such countries as Bosnia, Cambodia and Angola.

Diana

Princess Diana actively had campaigned for a land-mine ban, and during her funeral, many television programs showed photos of her with Bosnian and Angolan victims. State Department spokesman James Foley denied that sympathy for Diana had created political pressure and forced the policy change.

"I don't think our commitment to achieving a global ban was any less prior to the passing of Princess Diana than it is today," Foley told CNN.

Negotiators for the treaty told CNN that the change in the U.S. position is significant and welcome, but it could take some selling for the parties involved in the treaty talks to agree.

Canadian diplomatic sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN they are skeptical of the U.S. proposal. They said it does not go far enough. The treaty is expected to be finalized this week and signed in December -- with or without U.S. participation.

U.S. government sources told CNN the Pentagon became resigned to the possibility of signing the treaty, when Diana became an active supporter of a ban. When Diana died two weeks ago, the sources said, Pentagon officials decided, in effect, to drop their opposition to it.

Foley denied that Diana influenced the U.S. decision. The shift in policy was a "negotiating change," he said. "Goals in Oslo (where the talks are under way) remain the same."

CNN World Affairs Correspondent Ralph Begleiter and Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.
 
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