U.S. presses Israel on cluster bombs

The Bush administration is consulting closely with Israel on how it deploys cluster bombs.

“We’ve had very intensive consultations with the Israeli government on this,” Stephen Mull, the acting assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said last week, while reviewing U.S. policy toward an intternational treaty to be proposed in Dublin this week that would ban the munitions. “We just had a team in Israel a few weeks ago. And we understand that they are, in fact, introducing major reforms regulating their use of it so those sorts of mistakes don’t happen again.”

Israel deployed a million of the bomblets, which scatter over a wide area, during its 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel said the bombs were deployed in areas where Hezbollah fighters were stationed and which were empty of civilians; however, civilians returned to their homes after the war, and human rights groups say 200 people have been killed or maimed handling the devices since war’s end.

Israeli officials, speaking on background, blamed faulty U.S.-made cluster bombs that they said did not detonate during fighting only to explode months after the fact. In part because of the aftermath of the Lebanon war, the U.S. Congress has banned the sale of cluster bombs that are less than 99 percent reliable; the net result is that the United States is not selling cluster bombs because it is currently unable to ensure 99 percent reliability.

Mull said the United States opposed the blanket ban on cluster bombs to be proposed this week because the weapons are useful in fending off advancing armies.

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