- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 19, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES GENEVA — The United States yesterday reversed its opposition to an international treaty on cluster bombs, with a senior State Department official saying it would negotiate limits but not a ban on the weapons.

“It was determined that the United States should support the initiation of a negotiation on cluster munitions within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW),” said Ronald Bettauer, who leads the U.S. delegation to CCW talks.

Mr. Bettauer, speaking at the beginning of weeklong session in Geneva on the proposed treaty, said the U.S. change in position resulted from an internal review by the Bush administration.

He said the review was prompted by “concerns raised by other countries, and our own concerns about the humanitarian implications of these weapons.”

Cluster munitions are bombs that are designed to come apart near ground level and disperse many smaller “bomblets.” Some bomblets do not explode until years later, when they kill or maim people who unwittingly step on them.

Israel’s use of cluster bombs in its war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon last summer heightened the sense of urgency for talks on a global treaty.

Western diplomats and arms-control activists called the move by Washington “a welcome step,” reversing more than four years of opposition.

A series of talks known as the Oslo process is seeking, with the support of 70 nations, to broker a deal that would ban most cluster munitions.

Two conferences have been held this year in Oslo, and Lima, Peru, and more talks are slated to be held in Vienna, Austria, in December, and New Zealand.

The process is to culminate with a conference in Dublin in May.

U.S. diplomats say that an absolute ban on cluster munitions as envisaged by the Oslo process is unacceptable, but they could accept restrictions on certain uses of cluster munitions under a CCW pact.

Several diplomats said that China, Russia and Pakistan were also reluctant to accept an outright ban.

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