By Mario Trujillo - 06/27/14 08:37 AM EDT
The United States will no longer produce or purchase anti-personnel landmines, the White House announced during a conference in Mozambique on Friday.
The Obama administration said the move, long called for by advocates, helps bring it closer to compliance with the 1997 Ottawa Convention treaty signed by 161 other nations, but not the United States.
The White House said it is currently looking at ways to decrease the risk associated with the loss of landmines and said other policies surrounding the issue are under consideration.
While not part of the 1997 treaty, the United States is the largest financial supporter of clearing landmines and medical training for those injured by mines. According to a White House fact sheet, the U.S. has given more than $2.3 billion to 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction since 1993.
The Obama administration has been criticized for not signing onto the treaty, first enacted during former President Clinton's administration.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), an outspoken proponent of the United States joining the Ottawa Convention, noted that the country has fought two wars in the past decade without the help of landmines during a floor speech earlier this year.
The Pentagon had defended the decision to not sign on to the treaty by pointing to the defense of South Korea. Leahy, however, said the government should reconsider its policy, asserting the weapons continue to kill innocent people and they have no place in the "arsenal of a civilized country."
The White House dismissed concerns that the policy change would leave South Korea vulnerable to attacks across its heavily fortified border with the North.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the announcement "no way signals a reduction our ability to assist in defense of our friends in South Korea."
This story was updated at 3:43 p.m.