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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 17, 1997
                              PRESS BRIEFING 
                                ROBERT BELL, 

                         NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL

The Briefing Room

2:38 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: And now act two in our never-ending briefing. I want to thank Secretary Shalala and Bruce Reed for helping on the President's announcement concerning tobacco today. And I now have Bob Bell, who is the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control with the National Security Council, who can help you through the President's announcement on land mines.

Q On land mines, one part of the President's statement would indicate that by 2006 the United States unilaterally will abandon use of all land mines, but in another part of the statement he still refers to a 20- or 30-year extension for land mines associated with antitank mines. Can you clarify how absolute the unilateral ban on United States land mines, in effect, is under the President's Directive?

MR. MCCURRY: This and more.

Mr. Robert Bell.

MR. BELL: I will, because it is totally comprehensive. But why don't I just run through a few points and then start with you as the first question if I haven't explained it to your satisfaction by the time I finish. and I'll promise to be short.

Throughout the three-week negotiation in Oslo, the United States demonstrated considerable flexibility and a good-faith effort to find common ground with the other conference participants. We came to the negotiations seeking five improvements in the treaty to address fundamental underlying U.S. security concerns, five improvements that, had they been accepted, would have allowed us to sign the treaty.

In each case, in each of these five instances, we responded with flexibility. And in each case, we considered many alternative formulations, particularly in the last two or three days of the negotiations. We never said, "this wording is it, take it or leave it." It was a very dynamic negotiation through and past the 11th hour.

Let me just run through each of those five then. First was verification. We said that we needed to get improvements in the text to have a better verification regime in this treaty. After all, it's a treaty that will require a two-thirds vote of approval from a very conservative United States Senate on arms control matters. And, in fact, we succeeded. The treaty that was negotiated in Oslo does have an improved verification regime, including much more detailed information on data exchanges and fact finding teams that could go verify compliance. So that was a success story.

Second, we sought in our original proposal a specific exemption to deal with Korea; an exemption for which there would have been no time limit in the treaty, per se. And in the counteroffer that we made, the package close-out proposal over the last weekend, we made a major change in that position. We said that we could accept a nine-year deadline for solving the problem in Korea.

Third is the issue of the right of withdrawal from the treaty, and I think there's been a lot of confusion on that point. The Ottawa treaty will have a withdrawal clause. That had been agreed and we supported it. A state can serve six months notice under this treaty and withdrawal for any reason -- that's there. But there was another provision which we found exceedingly odd. It was a paragraph that said, however, you may not withdraw if you're involved in a conflict. Now, it seemed to us that that's precisely when you might need it most.

And, furthermore, our review of recent arms control history -- whether it's the Chemical Weapons Treaty, the CTB, the NPT, the Start treaties, whatever -- 20 of the last 20 arms control treaties that we've been part of have withdrawal clauses that are not restricted in time of war.

So we sought to delete that restriction on a state's right to withdraw, and the conference would not move. So over the weekend we proposed a compromise, which was to say, all right, let that stand, but if you're in a conflict and you're the victim of aggression as defined under the United Nation's Charter, the restriction wouldn't apply and you could withdraw. That seemed to us to be fundamentally consistent with a state's inherent right to self-defense under international law.

That met resistance. I don't know if we could have solved that if everything else had been resolved, but, personally, I think we might have.

The fourth issue was transition period. And it's important to remember why we felt we needed a transition period. Point one is you can't turn a supertanker on a dime. We have been going in a certain direction with our defense posture for a long time -- with great success, I might add, as demonstrated in the Gulf War. And we rely on land mines, at least have up to now. And so to do something different, we needed to field alternatives to get a comparable military capability. And our best estimate was that that meant about nine years.

But it's also important to realize why we needed to get a comparable capability, and that is because while the Ottowa treaty is a great accomplishment, it's only a partial solution. There are many, many very important states in relation to this world land mines catastrophe that are not part of this treaty, or at least don't appear to be willing to join it -- Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Vietnam, Israel, just to name a few. So we faced the reality that we would have to prepare to operate with our military forces in a world in which we would not have land mines and many important states would. We felt we needed a transition period to get ready for that. And we went to the conference and proposed nine years from when the treaty enters into force. Now, to enter into force this treaty has to get 40 ratifications and then six months pass. So I would guess somewhere around the year 2000 it went into force.

At the conference we received a counterproposal for a nine-year transition period that would start upon signature this December. And we made the hard decision to say yes to that, even though it meant we had two years less than we thought we needed originally to get ready for this kind of world.

Unfortunately, that counteroffer, even though we accepted it, failed to win majority support at the conference. The people that presented it to us hoped they could win support. We accepted it. They came back and reported, I think with great disappointment, that they could not deliver. Some states thought it was too long; other states thought it was too unqualified; some states wanted to restrict it just to Korea; some states wanted to restrict it in various kinds of conflict. So we didn't have agreement on that.

And then, fifth, the fifth issue is the one that the President elaborated on at some length in his remarks, and that was our simple insistence that a treaty designed to ban antipersonnel land mines not end up banning our principal antitank mines.

It's important to realize that when the states got to Oslo they were not starting with a blank slate. They had been working on this treaty for almost a year, certainly the last six months in earnest. And our European allies had already gotten into the treaty text an exemption -- there has been a lot of talk about U.S. exemptions -- there was an exemption in the treaty when we got to Oslo, an exemption for explosive devices that are designed to kill or injure people who try to disturb or remove an antitank mine.

Those of you who are military war-fighting experts here know that an antitank mine by itself is extremely vulnerable because someone can run up, pick it up and run away with it. It takes thousands of pounds of pressure to detonate it, or a large magnetic force. So all countries in the world have devices that are designed to kill or injure soldiers who are trying to remove or blow up the mine. And the way our European allies do it is to attach booby traps next to, in, or under their antitank mines. Then if the person disturbs it, they die -- they die in a very big way because the antitank mines goes off. And that gives them pause. But since you can get right on top of it, you could use a long pole, disturb it, blow it up -- now you have a hole that a tank can come through and you've defeated the purpose of the minefield barrier.

Our antitank mines are different. There's a reason that they're different -- that's because we are better at it. There's a reason that we have the preeminent force in the world with the best technology. We figured out through our own military history that you don't want the infantryman to get right on top of the mine, so we put these same little kinds of explosive devices that are designed to kill or injure someone who's going to get the mine -- the antitank mine, near the antitank mine with some trip wires so they can't get close enough to disturb it. And if they try to get close, they get blown up.

Now, the treaty exemption that we found on the table when we got to Oslo did not extend quite that far to capture the engineering design of our systems. And we proposed two words, two simple words added to that exemption. The words were "or near," so that a device placed near the antitank mine to protect it was exempted in the same way that the devices for our allies are being exempted, would fix that problem. And, unfortunately, as the President said, the conference wouldn't agree. And he could not, as he emphasized, allow our principal antitank munitions to be stripped from our inventory.

So at the end of the day, it came down to two sticking points. We asked for a reasonable period of time to transition to a world in which we had no antipersonnel land mines and banned all of them, and we could not get support for that. And we asked simply to have the same treatment for our antitank mines that our friends and allies had already protected in the treaty with respect to their systems.

Let me stop there then and see if I answered your question.

Q No, you haven't, because my question is perspective now. Under the President's directive of today, where he, regardless of what happened in Oslo, is directing an end to U.S. use of land mines unilaterally by 2003 and then by 2006 in Korea -- my question is whether his ban, his unilateral ban, applies to those land mines that are positioned around antitank mines. Would he also get rid of them by 2006?

MR. BELL: His directive requires us, in the case of all the world except Korea, to end the use of antipersonnel land mines by 2003, and in Korea be ready with the alternatives by 2006. Now, what we are saying, what's fundamental to our argument in Oslo and fundamental to the answer to your question, is that these explosive devices that protect our antitank mines are not antipersonnel land mines. They are not being banned under the President's directive because they are not antipersonnel land mines.

These things are explosive devices, just like explosive devices that protect our allies' antitank mines. They are built into this munition. It's sealed at the factory. It's an integral unit.

Take, for example, the one that's delivered by an F16. It's called gator. The F16 flies over, drops a canister. In the canister, which is sealed at the factory, you have 72 antitank mines. And in that same canister you have 22 of these explosive devices that are designed to keep infantry off the antitank mine. When the devices hit the ground there's a tight pattern, about 100-yard field of antitank mines with these 22 antipersonnel munitions, submunitions to protect the mines. And they put out trip wires.

But it's integral to this package. You cannot, if you are a field commander, open the package and take out these protective devices and go off and create a killing field somewhere for an antipersonnel minefield. They're only usable in this munition, and the munition is only used in a war. There's no placement of these things in the ground or on the ground in peacetime. And, beyond that, the whole unit, the antitank mines and the protective devices against infantry self destruct within two days. So there is nothing left, ever, even if there is a war, to threaten children or farmers or innocent civilians anywhere in the world.

So we don't consider those explosive devices in those canisters to be antipersonnel land mines for purposes of this treaty or for purposes of the President's directive today.

Q Well, couldn't you switch to the European system of defending our antitank --

MR. BELL: Yes, absolutely. Of course, you could do it. It's just a question of time and money. Why would you not want to do it? It's not as good. In warfare, with mines time is everything. What you're trying to do is simply buy a few minutes. This is not something you use at the DMZ from now until North Korea changes.

Imagine the Gulf War. Imagine General McCaffrey's 24th Mechanized Division with a left hook. He's out there with no protection on his flanks, maneuvering. And you see an enemy force coming in on his flank. You pick up the phone, call in an air strike. The aircraft comes over and drops this canister in front of the Republican Guard unit that's threatening his flank and puts down this field of antitank mines with their protective munitions as part of it. That's the concept of employment here.

Q Well, until you redefine these formerly called antipersonnel mines as something else, those are the only mines that the military uses now that are smart, antipersonnel mines.

MR. BELL: No, I'm sorry --

Q I mean, they say that they use very little of any APLs in any other way. So what does this --

MR. BELL: It's not true, unfortunately. We have munitions that are so-called pure, antipersonnel land mine munitions that are filled with smart antipersonnel land mines and no antitank mines.

Q But how much is that actually used anymore?

MR. BELL: Well, the reason that we have more of the combined munitions, the mixed munitions with a ratio of about four antitank mines in it for every device that protects against infantry is because the nature of warfare has changed.

Q But my question is how much --

MR. BELL: Let me just finish. The kinds of wars that we would fight now -- any imaginable war we would fight, except a guerrilla war, would be against a highly-mechanized or armored adversary. The North Koreans, Sadam Hussein -- you name them -- they're going to be coming at us with tanks and armored fighting vehicles. That's the nature of warfare. That's why the lion's share of our inventory is this munition that is mostly antitank, with protective devices built into it.

Q If the lion's share is that sort, what sort is -- how much of the inventory left over is not the sort used in the antitank mines?

MR. BELL: I think we have several different munitions that are designed to put down a pure antipersonnel land mine minefield, using the smart, self-destructing, self-deactivating systems. We have a substantial inventory of them, but they are going to be eliminated under the President's order today, by 2003. If we had signed the Oslo treaty, they would be eliminated under the Oslo treaty. The point I'm making is -- and I think there's been some confusion in reporting on this -- the U.S. did not propose in Oslo to exempt from the treaty smart antipersonnel land mines. We agreed that we would destroy all of our smart antipersonnel land mines. Our argument was that these explosive devices in our antitank mines were not antipersonnel land mines. They were antihandling, antitampering devices. And the Oslo treaty text had a paragraph in it whose purpose was to exempt from the treaty those kinds of devices. That bed was burning before we got in it.

Q What is the failure of the smaller antipersonnel mines that surround the antitank mines so that -- you say they will self-destruct within two days. But sometimes then they don't self-destruct.

MR. BELL: Well, the President talked about that two hours ago. They did a test where I think they used 3,200 of these things, and 3,199 of them self-destructed on time. There was one, out of 3,200, that was an hour late going off.

Now, what if it hadn't gone off? They all have a back-up feature where they turn themselves off after an additional period of time if they don't self-destruct. And the way they do that is they have a battery in it that has a certain lifetime, two weeks, and no one in the history of mankind has ever built a battery that didn't run out at some point.

So if you take the combination of the technical reliability of the self-destruction, which is in excess of 99 percent, and you add to it the technical reliability of the self-deactivating feature, it is 99.9 to the sixth 9 that you could ever have one of these things that after a couple of weeks would represent a threat to anybody.

Q When you say they self-destruct, do they actually explode, or do they just --

MR. BELL: Yes.

Q They actually do explode?

MR. BELL: They are designed to explode. If they fail to explode, they're designed to turn themselves off. That is the feature that is built into the smart antipersonnel land mines that we would give up under the Oslo treaty -- will give up under the President's directive. It's the same feature that's built into the protective explosive devices that are in our antitank munitions.

Q Bob, let me ask you a hindsight question. You seem to be a little bit envious of the Europeans that -- their antitank mines. And then you arrive last month in Oslo and you tried to do the same for the U.S. and you don't succeed. Doesn't that speak to a failure of American diplomacy? Had you gotten into Oslo at an earlier stage might you then not have been in a better position to horse trade with the Europeans and say, if you want the exemption on your antitank mines you're going to have to give on ours? Wasn't the late entry a handicap then?

MR. BELL: Well, there are two issues there. First, we're not envious -- ours are different because they're better.

Q Envious of their exemption?

MR. BELL: Well, let me just make this point. Our combat engineers think they can penetrate those enemy defenses in two minutes or less. We don't think our antitank minefields can be penetrated in under 20 minutes, even with the best sappers trying to get through.

In warfare, if you're Barry McCaffrey out there maneuvering in the desert with the 24th Mech against the Republican Guard, 18 minutes is the difference between life and death. We are not envious of the Europeans' systems. We are better.

Now, what if we'd gotten in sooner? You have to ask, why weren't we in sooner; what were we doing during this period while Oslo was picking up speed. We were in Geneva, trying to do something different, and we thought, better. It was certainly well-intentioned. We said, if you're going to have a comprehensive response to this global catastrophe being caused by land mines, you've got to have a global solution. So we went in the front door. We said, let's get at a negotiating table with Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea -- sit down and negotiate a treaty where we all solve this problem.

That's why we went to the Conference on Disarmament -- because all of those states are at the negotiating table in that forum. And they had done it in the case of CTB; they had done it in the case of the Chemical Weapons Convention; they had done it in the case of the Biological Weapons Convention in the CD. And when we got to land mines, they couldn't get out of the starting block. And it's a great disappointment that the CD was inadequate to this task, particularly since they don't have anything else to do there now that we've got all these other treaties done. So after six months of trying hard, we said, this is not going anywhere. And as the President promised in January, if six months after trying it doesn't work out we will go to plan B.

Now, why didn't we join Oslo in January? Because we didn't think that the Ottawa process was going to be a global solution. Remember, at that point there were only 40 states. So what happened? Well, one thing that happened was that Princess Diana focused the attention of the world on this problem in a way that no one else had done, even despite the best efforts of champions like Senator Leahy -- and the Ottawa process took off. And we recognized that; that was good. It was good that Ottawa got more and more -- and we recognized that. That was good. It was good that Ottawa got more and more and more members. So that when we got to Oslo, we had over 100 states. And with these two fixes, it would have all worked.

But there is still another step here. And that's even with Oslo being 100 states, it is missing Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. It's missing half of the world's population, half of the world's land area, half of the world's land mine producers. So you can't stop here.

That is why we're going to back to Geneva now. In addition to leaving our offer on the table for Ottawa, we're going to go back to Geneva, not try to take it all in one bite now, we're going to take it in steps. So our first goal, which the President emphasized today, is to get all of those states -- Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea -- to agree to a global treaty banning land mines exports. Then at least you're stopping the supply. The Ottawa treaty will eliminate a lot of the demand.

And if you add a third element, which is this protocol pending in the Senate, that Russia, China, India, everyone else has signed, that requires them to switch within nine years to the smart land mines -- between the three, I think Princess Diana would be quite proud.

Q Can you put a dollar figure on the 25 percent increase in de-mining?

MR. BELL: It's about $15 million to $20 million.

Q More than you had --

MR. BELL: To go into these additional countries that the President was announcing today, yes.

Q On the Princess Diana issue, how much pressure did the U.S. negotiators and the President feel over these past couple of weeks since her death to make these last-minute concessions in order to try to reach an agreement that would have allowed the U.S. to endorse the Oslo treaty?

MR. BELL: I think what Princess Diana did, in life and in death, was to increase the demand for a solution. And one effect of that, as I said, was that more countries came to Oslo. And that is good, to her credit.

I know the President feels that, in time he hopes that another consequence of Princess Diana's work is that countries that did not come to Oslo, their own people will be asking their governments, why didn't you go. So it may increase pressure over time for states that are on the sidelines to get involved. Maybe we'll see a benefit from that when we get to Geneva when they reconvene there.

But this was not an issue of us being pressured into concessions. As I said at the top, Wolf, we had five fundamental underlying concerns. We never said that our proposed language was the only way to solve it, but we were very clear, at the end of the day we need to find solutions to these five concerns. We came close -- I would say three out of five. And on the two where it didn't work out, there is no logical reason why it couldn't have. And that's where we ended up.

Q Are we going to go to Ottawa? And your use of language in the beginning was that these improvements, which obviously the other 100 delegates didn't think was the case. And also, we have signed treaties in the past, nuclear nonproliferation, where China wasn't a part of that and a lot of -- Israel, India and so forth. So that isn't really a taboo to us signing.

MR. BELL: Well, Helen, several points there. In the case of the Chemical Weapons Convention, we had a debate in the Senate over this exact point, where senators sought to hold our participation hostage to a universal solution. But there is a crucial difference here, and that's that in the Chemical Weapons Convention, because the people negotiating the treaty didn't trust that over time states out of good intention would join, they built into the Chemical Weapons Treaty sanctions, economic restrictions on countries that stayed out -- tried to stay out of the CWC. The reason the United States Senate, among others, ratified the CWC on April 28th was that they knew, if they hadn't, U.S. chemical industries would have come under trade sanctions.

Now, the land mines treaty that was negotiated in Oslo has no such mechanism. You can trust that over time these states will come to it, but it's not for sure.

Q What if the military fails to come up with a viable alternatives to land mines by 2006 for Korea? Is there some -- in whatever language he uses to propose this or to order this, is there some extension that they could then take?

MR. BELL: There is no extension in the President's directive. He has directed the military to get it done on this timetable. And our military is superb; when they are directed, they salute, take charge, and move out. And I'm sure, between the emphasis we'll put on this, the emphasis Secretary Cohen will put on this, the help that General Jones will bring to it, that we're going to get the job done.

MR. MCCURRY: Thanks, Bob.