Iran, N. Korea try to block U.N. arms trade treaty


UNITED NATIONS — Iran and North Korea tried to block adoption of a U.N. treaty that would regulate the multibillion-dollar international arms trade today but the chair suspended the meeting in an apparent effort to try and get them to back down.

To be approved, the draft treaty needs support from all 193 U.N. member states.

Australian Ambassador Peter Woolcott, the meeting chair, called the suspension after Iran and North Korea raised their nameplates signifying their refusal to join consensus. Earlier, they gave speeches outlining their objections to the treaty.

Supporters of the treaty said before the meeting that if it was not adopted they would go to the General Assembly and put the draft treaty to a vote, which they predicted would receive overwhelming approval.

Hopes of reaching agreement on what would be a landmark treaty were dashed last July when the U.S. said it needed more time to consider the proposed accord — a move quickly backed by Russia and China. In December, the U.N. General Assembly decided to hold a final conference and set today as the deadline.

U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations have been private, said Wednesday the United States was virtually certain to go along with the latest text.

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.

Ahead of the vote optimism had been growing that the long-debated treaty would become a reality, but there were concerns that Iran, India, Egypt or others would object.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari voiced objections to provisions in the draft treaty but did not join Iran and North Korea in trying to block consensus.

Iran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said the draft treaty has major loopholes, is “hugely susceptible to politicization and discrimination,” and ignores the “legitimate demand” to prohibit the transfer of arms to those who commit aggression.

“How can we reduce human suffering by turning a blind eye to aggression that costs the lives of hundreds of thousands of people?” he asked.

Anna Macdonald, head of arms control at Oxfam, one of about 100 organizations worldwide in the Control Arms coalition, which has been campaigning for a strong treaty said earlier today that “there have been concerns that Iran might block” agreement, but she cited an Iranian television station reporting “that Iran is going to support it.”

Whitney Brown, senior director of international law policy at Amnesty International also expected Iran to support the treaty though she said earlier today that “a handful of skeptical states have not been happy with the final treaty.” But with the majority of states very supportive — including the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France which are all major arms exporters — she predicted it would be “very difficult for the skeptics to gain much traction.”

China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong, whose country is an ally of North Korea, told The Associated Press on Wednesday: “We need a treaty. We hope for consensus.”

The draft treaty would not control the domestic use of weapons in any country, but it would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms, parts and components and to regulate arms brokers. It would prohibit states that ratify the treaty from transferring conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

The final draft made this human rights provision even stronger, adding that the export of conventional arms should be prohibited if they could be used in attacks on civilians or civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals.

In considering whether to authorize 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 or organized crime. The final draft would allow countries to determine whether the weapons transfer would contribute to or undermine peace and security.

The draft would also require parties to the treaty to take measures to prevent the diversion of conventional weapons to the illicit market.

Senator Lyndira Oudit of Trinidad and Tobago, a member of Parliamentarians for Global Action for a robust treaty, complained that the initial text was weak and had too many loopholes, but she said today the final draft was stronger, had “some teeth,” and “would be supported.”

Oxfam's Macdonald said the scope of the weapons covered in the latest draft is still too narrow.

It covers battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons. The phrase stating that this list was “at a minimum” was dropped, according to diplomats at the insistence of the United States.

“We need a treaty that covers all conventional weapons, not just some of them,” Macdonald said. “We need a treaty that will make a difference to the lives of the people living in Congo, Mali, Syria and elsewhere who suffer each day from the impacts of armed violence.”

Ammunition has been a key issue, with some countries pressing for the same controls on ammunition sales as arms, but the U.S. and others opposed such tough restrictions. The draft calls for each country that ratifies the treaty to establish regulations for the export of ammunition “fired, launched or delivered” by the weapons covered by the convention.

The Control Arms coalition and diplomats from countries that support them, said this wouldn't cover hand grenades and mines.

India and other countries had insisted that the treaty have an opt-out for government arms transfers under defense cooperation agreements. The new text appears to keep that loophole, stating that implementation of the treaty “shall not prejudice obligations” under defense cooperation agreements by countries that ratify the treaty.

“Making this treaty was like making a sausage: Everyone has added an ingredient,” said Ted Bromund, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

“Unfortunately, that has produced a document that leans much too far towards satisfying the concerns of the Arab Group and Mexico. The former view it as a rebellion prevention plan, while the latter wants a text that edges towards its view that the domestic firearms market in the U.S. should be subject to treaty regulation,” he said.

But Daryl Kimball, executive director of the independent Washington-based Arms Control Association, said, the emerging treaty represents an important first step in dealing with the “unregulated and illicit global trade in conventional weapons and ammunition,” which he said fuels wars and human rights abuses.

He said the text could have been stronger and more comprehensive, but it can still make an important difference.

“The new treaty says to every United Nations member that you cannot simply ‘export and forget,’” Kimball said.