Opening Statement by Stephen Mathias
Head of the U.S. Delegation
Meeting of the Group of Experts of High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Prohibition of Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW)
Geneva, November 3, 2008
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
While my delegation is eager to get to our substantive work as quickly as possible, we also feel that it is important to make a few opening remarks about the new text you circulated last Thursday and to share our thoughts on the way forward for these negotiations.
Mr. Chairman, my delegation believes that the draft you have circulated is an excellent basis for our work this week and gives us a real chance to achieve consensus this year on a new CCW protocol addressing the issue of cluster munitions. This new text strikes a reasonable balance among widely differing approaches to this important issue. As we have all known from the beginning of these negotiations, the central challenge facing us in this exercise is how to reach consensus among a group of countries that have fundamentally different views on cluster munitions. The goal has been to produce a text that will have real humanitarian benefits but that will also attract the support of those countries that believe that cluster munitions are legitimate weapons that are important to their national security interests.
I am sure that most delegations here would have preferred that we end up with a text that looks different than the one before us. Delegations representing countries that will sign the Oslo Convention would of course have preferred to ban a broader range of cluster munitions. Other countries would have preferred no protocol at all, or at most a set of non-binding best practices. Mr. Chairman, the great merit we see in the text you have prepared is that it charts what is truly a middle course between these different views. While we will of course need to discuss a number of aspects of the text, and many delegations, including mine will have areas where they will want to make some adjustments, we think it is very important to state clearly at the outset that any attempt to push this text significantly in one direction or another is likely to result in the failure of these negotiations – a result that we trust no delegation wants.
My delegation is certainly among those that does not find this to be a perfect text. For example, as we have said on many occasions, we disagree that the weapons defined in Article 2(1)(c)(v) are conceptually any different than other cluster munitions. However, in the spirit of compromise and in order to get this protocol done this year, we are prepared to live with this formulation in the Chairman’s text so long as subparagraph (d) is included as well. We hope other delegations will also show similar flexibility. There are a number of other issues that we will need to speak to at the appropriate time. But we want to emphasize again that we think the basic approach in this draft text strikes the right balance.
Finally, I would like to say a word about timing. Mr. Chairman, with your draft text on the table, we do not think it should be necessary to extend these negotiations into next year. This text is very close to something that will be able to gain consensus. If we can’t reach agreement on the remaining issues this week, then it seems unlikely to us that anything will change with additional negotiations next year. Accordingly, we strongly urge all delegations to work as vigorously and as flexibly as possible to reach agreement on a text during this session.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to conclude by again thanking you for the outstanding work that you and your team have done throughout the course of these negotiations and in particular, in getting us to this point where it seems that agreement is within our grasp.