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Opening Statement by Stephen Mathias, Head of U.S. Delegation to the CCW-GGE Meetings
July 7, 2008

Opening Statement by
Stephen Mathias, Head of the U.S. Delegation

Meetings of the Group of Governmental Experts of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW-GGE)

Thank you Mr. Chairman. I would like to start by recognizing you for your efforts and those of your entire team, not just in leading these negotiations during the time we are all here in Geneva, but also for all of your work between sessions to help move this process forward in a positive direction. In particular, my delegation would like to thank you for the draft text that you have shared with all delegations in an effort to make the most productive use of our time here over the next three weeks. We think the text will substantially advance these negotiations.

Mr. Chairman, my delegation shares the view that these negotiations are at a critical stage and that we should strive to make as much progress as possible during these next three weeks. That said, we do not think that we should rush into an article by article negotiation of the draft text you have presented. We think that the best approach may be to begin in our formal sessions with those topics on which the prospect of immediate progress might be highest.

It seems to us that it may make the most sense to start the formal sessions with discussions of International Humanitarian Law (“IHL”) as well as assistance and cooperation issues where it is already easier to see the way forward. At this stage, I would also like to mention in particular our gratitude for the efforts of the Japanese delegation in leading the working group on IHL during the second round of negotiations held in April. We believe that this work established a very solid foundation for what we expect will be a good article or articles addressing this important aspect of the issue. While we have heard the concerns expressed by some delegations on this subject this morning, we are hopeful that that it will be possible to reach an appropriate agreement on provisions in this area.

Mr. Chairman, we think that the central challenge we must face in this session is how to address the issue of technical improvements to cluster munitions, as we believe that technical improvements are an important aspect of an overall approach to addressing the humanitarian concerns associated with the use of cluster munitions. Let’s be honest – this is a difficult issue where different delegations have very different views. At the same time, we must always be mindful that this is a consensus body. We believe that the way to maximize our chances of success on this difficult issue is to make time this week for intensive informal bilateral and multilateral discussions and consultations to figure out what compromises might be possible and where consensus can be reached. We think that proceeding in this way will enhance the prospects for agreement. We recognize that this approach requires that we all exercise some patience, but we think it offers the best path to the goal we all share.

To facilitate progress, we would strongly urge all delegations to approach this round of negotiations in general, and the issue of technical improvements in particular, with a great deal of flexibility. Of course we all have national preferences for what will be included or not included in this instrument, but let us avoid letting these preferences stand in the way of achieving meaningful progress here.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, let me say a word about the text that was negotiated in Dublin as the outcome of the Oslo Process. As everyone probably knows, we chose not to participate in that process because we do not support a sweeping ban on cluster munitions. Nor do we view the text negotiated in Dublin as establishing a new, general legal norm concerning the use of cluster munitions; they remain, in our view, a legitimate weapon when used appropriately. Nevertheless, we followed the negotiations in Dublin with great interest. It is important to emphasize, however, that the CCW is a different process, involving different participants, and we expect that it will have a different outcome.

In closing, Mr. Chairman, we offer our commitment to work with you and other delegations to strive to make substantial progress over the next three weeks on our goal of concluding this year a legally binding protocol to the CCW addressing the issue of cluster munitions.