WASHINGTON — After two decades of waffling, the United States on Friday announced its intention to join an international treaty banning land mines, without setting a time frame while working through possible complications on the Korean peninsula.
Human rights advocates applauded the progress but said the Obama administration should immediately commit to a ban and begin destroying the United States' stockpile, while Republicans accused the president of disregarding military leaders who wanted to keep land mines.
The 15-year-old Ottawa Convention includes 161 nations that have signed on to prohibit the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of antipersonnel mines. President Bill Clinton had a goal of joining the treaty, but the Bush administration pulled back amid objections from military leaders. President Barack Obama ordered a review five years ago, and a U.S. delegation announced the change Friday at a land mine conference in Maputo, Mozambique.
Land mines kill or maim an estimated 4,000 people a year.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States has no land mines deployed around the globe but maintains a stockpile of just over 3 million.
Land mines being used in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea are administered by South Korea, but the United States oversees a stockpile in South Korea in case of an invasion from the North.
"The situation on the Korean peninsula presents unique challenges, for which we are diligently pursing solutions that would be compliant with the Ottawa Convention," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.