Wellington, New Zealand - Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams accused the United States on Wednesday of trying to stall negotiations on an international agreement to ban cluster bombs - without even attending talks on the treaty.
Delegates from more than 120 countries are negotiating a convention in New Zealand that would ban the use, production, trade and storage of cluster bombs that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.
The talks, first launched by Austria, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Peru and the Vatican last year, aim to define which cluster bomb weapons are acceptable and which should be banned.
Williams, a delegate to the talks, said the U.S. was seeking exemptions from the treaty for many cluster weapons, a 10-year delay to any treaty coming into force, and the right for non-cluster munition states to work in coalition with cluster bomb users.
The United States was not represented at the negotiations, and Williams accused its allies of making the demands on its behalf. "The U.S. has put pressure on states to do these things," she told The Associated Press.
There was no immediate response to a request for comment from U.S. Embassy officials in Wellington.
Williams said other countries seeking major changes to the proposed treaty were the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark as well as Japan, which she said was "fronting for the U.S."
John Duncan, Britain's Ambassador for Multinational Arms Control and Disarmament, said many cluster bomb users agree the uncontrolled use of the weapons was "not a tenable situation," but added a blanket ban was also unacceptable.
"Some cluster munitions don't cause unacceptable harm and should not be covered - so we need to keep a balance between the military requirement and the humanitarian requirement," he said.
The head of Japan's delegation, Ryuichi Hirano, denied his country was acting under instructions from the U.S. in the talks, and said it backed a treaty involving "as wide range of states as possible, including the major producers and possessors of cluster munitions."
A U.S. citizen, Williams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work on the international convention that outlawed land mines. Washington is not a signatory to the land mines convention, but no longer uses the weapon.
Some 41 of the 76 states in the world that stockpile cluster munitions are taking part in the negotiations. But major producers such as the U.S., Russia, China and Pakistan have not joined the process and have no observers at the conference.
This week's negotiations are the last talks among senior officials before final diplomatic negotiations scheduled for May in Ireland.
Negotiators hope to release a "Wellington Declaration" after the talks end Friday, said conference chairman Don MacKay, New Zealand's Disarmament Ambassador.
© 2008 Associated Press