UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Iran, North Korea and Syria blocked adoption of a U.N. treaty that would regulate the multibillion-dollar international arms trade for the first time, saying it fails to ban sales to terrorists, but other countries refused to let the treaty die.
The treaty's adoption required agreement by all 193 U.N. member states, but some countries said Thursday they would ask Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to bring the final draft before the General Assembly for adoption by vote as soon as possible. Observers said that could be as soon as Tuesday.
"This is not failure," British Ambassador Jo Adamson said. "Today is success deferred, and deferred by not very long."
For more than a decade, activists and some governments have been pushing for international rules to regulate the estimated $60 billion global arms trade and try to keep illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters and organized crime.
After two weeks of intensive negotiations, many delegates had been optimistic that consensus — which doesn't require a vote — by all states was within reach, but Iran, North Korea and Syria announced they could not support the treaty.
Both Iran and North Korea are under U.N. arms embargoes over their nuclear programs, while Syria is in the third year of a conflict that has escalated to civil war. Amnesty International said all three countries "have abysmal human rights records — having even used arms against their own citizens."
This was the second attempt in eight months to get countries with very different interests behind an Arms Trade Treaty.
Hopes of reaching agreement were dashed in 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 Thursday as the deadline.
U.S. deputy representative Dan Mahley said Thursday that the United States supported the proposed treaty as "fair and balanced" and looked forward to its quick adoption by the General Assembly.
The United States, along with Britain, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria and Norway, backed Kenya, which announced that because "the will of the overwhelming majority is clear" it was sending a letter to the secretary-general immediately asking him to bring the treaty before the General Assembly for adoption.
The secretary-general did not immediately address the request but expressed deep disappointment at the failure to agree on a treaty text.
"He is confident that the Arms Trade Treaty will come to pass and is encouraged by the shared determination to make this happen as soon as possible," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
The Control Arms Coalition, representing about 100 organizations which have campaigned for a strong treaty, said the earliest the General Assembly could vote is Tuesday, when the chair of the negotiations, Australian Ambassador Peter Woolcott, will present his report to the full world body.
The United States used the consensus requirement — which gives any country a veto — to block adoption of the treaty in July, but Anna Macdonald, head of arms control at Oxfam, said "now it's come back to bite them, because the U.S. now wants this treaty agreed but have found themselves blocked by Iran, North Korea and Syria."
She added, "There's no doubt that if the treaty was put to a vote there would have been a huge majority in favor of it — and I think there will be next week when the General Assembly votes."
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tom Countryman said the United States would like to see many countries ratify the treaty, because that's what will make it effective.
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 the 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.
Iran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said the draft treaty has "many legal flaws and 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.
North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador Ri Tong-il called the text "a risky draft which can be politically abused by major arms exporters," citing arms embargoes and human rights as criteria to prohibit arms exports. "Under this, major exporters are entitled to privileges while imposing self-proclaimed restrictions on arms trade to importers, whereas many countries have the right to legitimate self-defense and right to legitimate arms trade."
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said his country is perhaps the best example of the results of the illegal arms trade. He cited seven objections, including the treaty's failure to include an embargo on delivering weapons "to terrorist armed groups and to non-state actors."
India's Ambassador Sujata Mehta said the text was skewed against countries like itself that import arms, and noted that it would strive ensure that the final treaty not threaten India's defense cooperation agreements and contracts with other countries. She said it also won't have any real impact on illicit arms trafficking and the use of arms by terrorists.
Countryman, the U.S. delegation chief, said the treaty should make it harder for "serial human rights abusers" to obtain weapons, but he said "India is not one of these countries."
Associated Press writer Maria Sanminiatelli contributed to this report.