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Arms treaty must wait after UN agreement fails

Sunday, July 29, 2012    

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A UN treaty to regulate the multibillion-dollar global arms trade will have to wait after member states failed to an reach agreement, and some diplomats and supporters blamed the United States for the unravelling of the month-long negotiating conference.

Hopes had been raised that agreement could be reached on a revised treaty text that closed some major loopholes by Friday's deadline for action. But the US announced Friday morning that it needed more time to consider the proposed treaty — and Russia and China then also asked for more time.

"This was stunning cowardice by the Obama Administration, which at the last minute did an about-face and scuttled progress toward a global arms treaty, just as it reached the finish line," said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "It's a staggering abdication of leadership by the world's largest exporter of conventional weapons to pull the plug on the talks just as they were nearing an historic breakthrough."

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, also blamed the US, saying "they derailed the process", adding that nothing will happen to revive negotiations until after the US presidential election in November.

Chief US negotiator Thomas Countryman refused to talk to several dozen reporters when the meeting broke up.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement Friday evening that the US supports a second round of negotiations next year.

"While we sought to conclude the month's negotiations with a treaty, more time is a reasonable request for such a complex and critical issue," the satement said.

The draft treaty would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and to regulate arms brokers. It would prohibit states that ratify the treaty from transferring conventional weapons if they would violate arms embargoes or if they would promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

In considering whether to authorise the export of arms, the draft says a country must evaluate whether the weapon would be used to violate international human rights or humanitarian laws or be used by terrorists, organised crime or for corrupt practices.

Many countries, including the US, control arms exports but there has never been an international treaty regulating the estimated US$60 billion global arms trade. For more than a decade, activists and some governments have been pushing for international rules to try to keep illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters and organised crime.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "disappointed" with the failure to reach agreement on a treaty text , which he described as "a setback". He said he remained committed to working with member states to puruse a "robust" treaty on controlling the conventional arms trade.

"A strong treaty would rid the world of the appalling human cost of the poorly regulated international arms trade," Ban said in a statement released late Friday in London where he was attending the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

The UN General Assembly voted in December 2006 to work toward a treaty regulating the growing arms trade, with the US casting a "no" vote. In October 2009, the Obama Administration reversed the Bush Administration's position and supported an assembly resolution to hold four preparatory meetings and a four-week UN conference in 2012 to draft an arms trade treaty.

The United States insisted that a treaty had to be approved by the consensus of all 193 UN member states.

Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan, the conference chairman, said treaty supporters knew "this was going to be difficult to achieve".

He said negotiations failed because some delegations didn't like the draft though "the overwhelming majority in the room did". He added that some countries from the beginning of negotiations had "different views" on a treaty, including Syria, Iran and North Korea.

Amnesty's Nossel accused the US of raising 11th-hour issues "and wanting more time to consult with itself", which stopped the momentum toward agreement.

Despite the failure to reach agreement, Moritan predicted that "we certainly are going to have a treaty in 2012".

He said there are several options for moving forward in the General Assembly which will be considered over the summer, before the world body's new session begins in September.

Ambassador Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel, who led the French delegation, called Friday's result "the worst-case scenario".

"I'm disappointed but not discouraged," he said. "The ball is now in the court of the General Assembly but the risk is that countries may want to start negotiations from scratch."

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the General Assembly needs to decide whether to move forward with the treaty text that was close to adoption or reopen old issues.

"What we have now is an uncertain outcome that leaves in doubt the support of the major arms exporters and importers, including the US and Russia, and that needs to be overcome," he said. "This is a delicate moment and it's going to require real leadership on the part of key states including the European countries, Washington and others."

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