UN Arms Trade Pact Stalls as Iran, N. Korea, Syria Object

An international treaty regulating the $70 billion global arms trade was sidetracked after failing to get the unanimous support needed for adoption among more than 150 countries taking part in negotiations at the United Nations.

Iran, North Korea and Syria yesterday barred passage of proposed standards to block illegal exports of conventional weapons -- from small arms and missile launchers to tanks, warships and attack helicopters. Absent a consensus among countries at the treaty talks, the accord can be approved by a two-thirds majority in the 193-member General Assembly.

Peter Woolcott, the Australian diplomat presiding over the arms talks in New York, suspended the meeting for consultations on how to proceed. After delegates reconvened, Iran, North Korea and Syria repeated their objections.

“The treaty had been within reach,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s office said in a statement. “Given the importance of the issues involved, the secretary general strongly hopes that member states will continue exploring ways to bring the treaty into being.”

Backers of the accord plan to seek a General Assembly vote as early as next week to salvage the decades-long effort to establish rules for cross-border arms sales.

“I am certain that an overwhelming majority of states will vote in favor,” if the accord is presented to the General Assembly next week, said Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, who led the U.S. delegation to the talks. “I’m not certain whether there will be a vote or not,” he said yesterday on a call with reporters.

Iran’s Concerns

Mohammad Khazaee, Iran’s UN Ambassador, expressed his continuing concerns. “Despite serious demands by many states, the requirements of the inherent right of states to self-defense, namely the right to acquire conventional weapons to defend against aggression and preserve their territorial integrity, has not been addressed,” he said.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s UN ambassador, objected that the agreement didn’t allow exceptions for arms transfers in the case of “crimes of aggression.” President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime, which has received arms from Russia, is fighting a two-year civil war that has killed 70,000 people.

Countryman said the treaty would help reduce worldwide violence by cracking down on black-market arms sales. The U.S. already has the highest standards in the world for regulating weaponry and the treaty would bring the rest of the world closer to meeting those standards, he said.

Levels Field

“It levels the playing field and gives American manufacturers a better position in the world,” Countryman said. He said that several delegations will ask the General Assembly to consider the text of the proposed treaty on April 2.

“The United States regrets that it was not possible today to reach consensus in this conference on an arms-trade treaty,” Countryman said. “We look forward to this text being adopted in the General Assembly in the very near future.”

In the U.S., the National Rifle Association, a gun-rights lobbying group, has said the UN rules would impinge on the Constitution’s Second Amendment right to bear arms, though domestic gun sales were excluded from the proposed treaty.

The accord also was criticized by more than half of the U.S. Senate, where a two-thirds majority would be needed for ratification. Senators on March 23 voted 53-46 for a symbolic measure opposing American participation in the weapons pact.

Treaty Goals

The draft treaty, hammered out after more than 10 years of talks, seeks to prevent cross-border shipments of weapons that could enable war crimes, terrorism or human-rights violations and fuel conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. Governments adopting the standards would have to report and verify sales abroad to a UN body.

The treaty’s final draft didn’t fully satisfy human-rights groups that pointed to potential loopholes, including a clause exempting weapons transfers made as part of bilateral defense agreements.

“While there are still deficiencies,” the treaty “has the potential to provide significant human-rights protection and curb armed conflict and violence if all governments demonstrate the political will to implement it properly and develop it in the future,” Brian Wood, Amnesty International’s head of arms control and human rights, said yesterday in a statement.

After years of discussions about a multilateral international arms sales agreement, it wasn’t until 2009, after President Barack Obama took office, that the U.S. reversed long-standing opposition to a treaty, which would have little impact without endorsement by the largest global arms exporter.

Parts Omitted

To attract U.S. backing, ammunition, parts and components were left out of the broad scope of the draft treaty. Instead, countries would be required to “maintain a national control system to regulate” those exports.

Secretary of State John Kerry said in a March 15 statement that the U.S. “will not support any treaty that would be inconsistent with U.S. law and the rights of American citizens under our Constitution.”

Outlining Iran’s objections, Khazaee said the draft treaty accommodated the U.S. while neglecting issues of concern to other countries.

“While the right of individuals to own and use guns has been protected in the current text to meet the constitutional requirements of only one state, the inalienable right to self-determination of peoples under foreign occupation or alien and colonial domination has completely been ignored, just to appease that state and its staunch ally in the Middle East,” he said.

The five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council - - China, France, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. -- account for 60 percent of the global arms trade.

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