Iran and North Korea Stall Approval of Arms Treaty

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UNITED NATIONS -- The global attempt to establish a universal standard to regulate the sale of conventional weapons suffered a temporary setback on Thursday after Iran and North Korea opposed the draft Arms Trade Treaty, blocking the consensus needed for it to pass after years of arduous negotiations.

Achieving consensus among all 193 member states of the United Nations is considered a monumental task, but it was hoped that it would work in this case because so many countries supported the idea of trying to regulate the $70 billion annual industry which causes so much death and destruction around the world.

After Iran and North Korea voted against the draft treaty, Peter Woolcott, the Australian ambassador who was the president of the treaty conference, suspended the meeting in an attempt to get the two countries to stand down, diplomats and analysts said.

If that fails, then it was expected that the treaty would be sent to the General Assembly as early as next week for approval. That is considered a weaker but no less binding manner of getting the treaty passed.

Although opposition from Iran, North Korea and Syria was anticipated, there was hope among diplomats and outside proponents of the treaty that they would not stand in the way of an accord that so many countries support. All three are members of the roughly 120-member nonaligned movement -- Iran is the current president of that group -- and the bulk of its members in Africa and Latin American strongly backed the treaty.

It was hoped that their influence would convince any opponents not to stand in the way of global consensus.

But in the end Iran and North Korea, both of which voted against consensus, along with Syria, which spoke out against consensus but did not vote the treaty down, went with their domestic concerns. All three states are subject to various arms embargoes already, and were concerned that the treaty would further add international muscle to such blockades, diplomats and analysts said.

The treaty would require states exporting conventional weapons to develop criteria that would link exports to avoiding human rights abuses, terrorism and organized crime.

In rejecting the treaty, Mohamed Khazaee, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, said the text left too much in doubt.

"While the rights of arms exporting states is well preserved in this text," he said, "the right of importing states to acquire and import arms for their security needs is subject to the discretionary judgment and subjective assessment of the exporting states."

He said that would leave the sale of conventional weapons covered by the text "highly susceptible to politicization, manipulation and discrimination."

Iran also took a couple of indirect swipes at the United States and Israel, without naming them specifically. The preamble of the treaty stresses that use of individual weapons for sporting or traditional uses is protected -- considered a bow to the United States where the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups have lambasted the proposed treaty despite assurances it would not impinge on the constitutional rights of American gun owners.

But Iran and the NRA turned out to be unlikely allies, at least for the moment.

"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," the Mr. Khazaee said.

He also objected to the treaty's exemption concerning arms transfers by states to their own armed forces outside their borders -- saying such weapons had been used "to commit aggression and occupation" in many parts of the world including the Middle East. This was an indirect reference to the American invasion of Iraq, among other instances.

Syria, too suggested that there should have been a specific reference to the rights of states facing occupation to acquire arms. Given the civil war in Syria, its ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, also said arms shipments to terrorist groups and nonstate actors should have been banned in specific language.

The North Korean representative called the treaty "a risky draft which can be politically abused by major arms exporters."

The treaty would for the first time set international standards for conventional weapons sales, tying them to respect for human rights, the prevention of war crimes and the protection of civilians. Rights advocates have called the treaty the most ambitious attempt to stop the illicit spread of weapons, which fuels deadly conflicts around the world.

The final draft was the result of two weeks of intensive negotiations -- already in overtime after bartering last July failed.

The treaty would push states to establish standards in barring the sale of conventional weapons if they would lead to violations of international human rights law, aid terrorism or help organized crime. Weapons sales likely to increase violence against women and children would also be banned.

Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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