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Arms Exports

UN seeks Arms Trade Treaty in tough talks

Delegates have one day to seal a treaty somewhat controlling the global arms trade. Most UN members want a deal but differ on the particulars. Even if a treaty is signed, it's likely to lack firepower.

UN members were presented on Wednesday with a final draft on a proposed Arms Trade Treaty, an attempt to instill some level of control into a largely unregulated industry. After nine days of touchy talks, the president of the negotiating conference, Australian diplomat Peter Woolcott, laid down his final attempt at compromise.

"I will not consider any further amendments," Woolcott told the conference at the UN's New York headquarters. "It is take it or leave."

It was not immediately clear whether all countries would approve the deal, which could be vetoed by any of the UN's 193 member states.

"We are making good progress and moving in the right direction," said Joanne Adamson, the head of the British delegation to the talks, adding that the latest revision boasted several improvements.

"These include inclusion of ammunition in the scope of the treaty, a new article on preventing diversion of arms, and a strengthened section on exports which are prohibited," Adamson said.

The text would cover all cross-border trade in conventional weapons like tanks, combat aircraft, missiles and launchers, warships and some light weapons. The negotiators had previously said during the talks that in any eventual deal, domestic arms sales would not be regulated and laws permitting people in some countries to own weapons would not be affected.

The powerful US-based National Rifle Association contests this, however, saying it will seek to stop any treaty in the US Senate if it is ratified.

Dealing in death, without rules

Though desired for decades, the current bid for a UN deal gathered pace with a March 18 statement from Mexico signed by 120 countries saying "the overwhelming majority of [UN] Member States agree with us on the necessity and the urgency of adopting a strong Arms Trade Treaty. Our voice must be heard."

Germany and Britain signed this letter, the other four top arms exporters in the world - the US, Russia, China and France - did not.

US support in principle for some kind of treaty, a change of policy from Barack Obama in 2009, gave the movement fresh impetus.

Nongovernmental groups such as Oxfam and Amnesty International have also been involved in the talks, and showed signs of optimism that the final draft document seemed stronger than its predecessors.

"While there are still deficiencies in this final draft, this 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," Amnesty International's Brian Wood said.

Notable weapons not covered by the treaty include unmanned drone aircraft and hand grenades. Russia and China were keen to avoid provisions demanding that arms sales were made public, the US said during the negotiations that it would not accept controls on ammunition, while India secured a clause making arms deals that are part of broader defense cooperation agreements exempt from the treaty.

Some countries appeared to abject. "India, Syria and Iran are countries that could still cause trouble," a European diplomat told the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity after the final draft was released on Wednesday. "But I'll wager the treaty will pass by consensus."

The global conventional arms trade is estimated to be worth $70 billion (55 billion euros) per year. Arms control advocates and human rights campaigners say one person dies every minute as a result of armed violence around the world.

msh/jr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)