U.S. blamed for unravelling month-long negotiations

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

“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 U.S., saying “they derailed the process”, adding that nothing will happen to revive negotiations until after the U.S. presidential election in November.

Chief U.S. negotiator Thomas Countryman refused to talk to several dozen reporters when the meeting broke up. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement Friday evening that the U.S. 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, organized crime or for corrupt practices.

Many countries, including the U.S., control arms exports but there has never been an international treaty regulating the estimated $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 organized crime.

The U.N. General Assembly voted in December 2006 to work toward a treaty regulating the growing arms trade, with the U.S. 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 U.N. conference in 2012 to draft an arms trade treaty.

The U.S. insisted that a treaty had to be approved by all 193 U.N. member states.

Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan, the conference chairman, said treaty supporters knew “this was going to be difficult to achieve.” Mr.Moritan predicted that “we certainly are going to have a treaty in 2012.”

At the end of the negotiating session, Mexico read a joint statement from more than 90 countries saying they “are determined to secure an Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible.”

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