— UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The first global treaty on regulating the multimillion-dollar international arms trade appeared to be nearing consensus, supporters said, though worries remained that Iran, India or other countries would back off an agreement that requires approval from all 193 U.N. member states.
Thursday is the deadline for reaching a deal and ahead of the vote optimism was growing that the long-debated treaty would become a reality.
"Signals are that the treaty stands a good chance of being adopted today," said 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. "There have been concerns that Iran might block" consensus but an Iranian television station has reported "that Iran is going to support it."
Ahead of the vote, Macdonald said, a number of delegates met with Australian Ambassador Peter Woolcott, who is chairing the negotiations and presented the final draft of the treaty on Wednesday.
The draft treaty does 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 makes 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.
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 Thursday 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.
"We understand that a handful of skeptical states have not been happy with the final treaty," Whitney Brown, senior director of international law policy at Amnesty International said Thursday.
But she said that with the majority of states very supportive — including the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France which are all major arms exporters — "and even former skeptics like Iran we think it will be very difficult for the skeptics to gain much traction this afternoon."
"We need a treaty," China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "We hope for consensus."
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.
"It's important for each and every country in the world that we have a regulation of the international arms trade," Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig told the AP. "There are still some divergences of views, but I trust we can overcome them."
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 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 fuels wars and human rights abuses worldwide."
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.