The UK was silent about a loophole that allowed the US to store banned cluster bombs on its soil, according to a leaked secret diplomatic cable.
The diplomatic message dated May 2009 and released by WikiLeaks reveals the two powers agreed to keep the deal quiet to avoid “complicating” a debate over the ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) in the British parliament.
The United States has refused to sign up to the convention, which was prompted by concerns of the impact of the bombs on civilians. It came into force on August 1 this year.
Britain was one of more than 90 countries that signed the CCM in December 2008. It bans countries from using cluster bombs or storing them for other countries.
The leaked cable published today says ministers urged the United States to move out all their stockpiles by a deadline of 2013.
But it said: “In answer to queries about the case-by-case temporary storage exception for specific missions…. (Foreign Office officials) confirmed that the concept was accepted at highest levels of the government, as that idea has been included in the draft letter from Minister Miliband to Secretary Clinton.”
It referred to then Foreign Secretary David Miliband and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The cable added that while all cluster munitions would have to be moved out after 2013, “any new cluster munitions the USG (Washington) wanted to bring to those sites after the treaty’s entry into force for the UK — either before or after 2013 — would require the temporary exception.”
In April, Baroness Taylor of Bolton, Britain’s then minister for international defence and security, told Parliament, “I can confirm that the US has identified its cluster munitions on UK territory as exceeding its worldwide operational planning requirements.”
“Therefore, these cluster munitions will be removed from sites in the UK in 2010 and from all UK territories by 2013,” she said.
But one of the leaked cables shows that the British Foreign Office actually suggested the loophole allowing the US to keep cluster bombs in British territory should be withheld from Parliament.
The US government was offered a “temporary storage exception for specific missions,” according to the document.
“It would be better for the USG [US government] and HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] not to reach final agreement on this temporary agreement understanding until after the CCM ratification process is completed in Parliament, so that they can tell parliamentarians that they have requested the USG to remove its cluster munitions by 2013, without complicating/muddying the debate by having to indicate that this request is open to exceptions,” a senior Foreign Office official was quoted as saying.
The bombs were stored on the island of Diego Garcia, a British territory that was leased to the US.
— with AFP