U.S. Pledges to Sign APL Ban; Lists Conditions to Be Met First

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IN A MAY 15 letter to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Clinton administration pledged that the United States would sign the Ottawa landmine convention bv 2006 if "suitable alternatives" to anti-personnel landmines (APLs) and so-called mixed anti-vehicle systems can be developed. The treaty, signed last December, bans the stockpiling, development and use of anti-personnel landmines and has been signed by 126 countries as of May 31, but has not been signed by the United States, China, Russia or a number of other landmine possessors.

The letter to Leahy, signed by National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger, signals a politically significant shift in the administration's position and increases the pressure on the Department of Defense to develop alternatives to APLs, as called for by President Clinton last year. Moreover, the administration for the first time has pledged to search "aggressively" for alternatives to mixed munitions (which combine anti-vehicle components with antipersonnel munitions) that the United States currently stockpiles and unsuccessfully sought to exempt during the treaty's negotiation. The announcement "is a major step toward the international ban," said Leahy in a May 22 statement. "I am greatly encouraged by this decision because I believe there is no longer any doubt that we will sign...the only question is whether we get there before 2006."

When Clinton announced in September 1997 that the United States would not sign the Ottawa Convention, the president cited the need "to preserve the anti-tank mines we rely upon to slow down an enemy's armored offensive in a battle situation. …