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Kerry says US will sign UN treaty on arms regulation despite lawmaker opposition

Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the Obama administration would sign a controversial U.N. treaty on arms regulation, despite bipartisan resistance in Congress from members concerned it could lead to new gun control measures in the U.S. 

Kerry, releasing a written statement as the U.N. treaty opened for signature Monday, said the U.S. "welcomes" the next phase for the treaty, which the U.N. General Assembly approved on April 2. 

"We look forward to signing it as soon as the process of conforming the official translations is completed satisfactorily," he said. Kerry called the treaty "an important contribution to efforts to stem the illicit trade in conventional weapons, which fuels conflict, empowers violent extremists, and contributes to violations of human rights." 

The treaty would require countries that ratify it to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms and components and to regulate arms brokers, but it will not explicitly control the domestic use of weapons in any country. 

Still, gun-rights supporters on Capitol Hill warn the treaty could be used as the basis for additional gun regulations inside the U.S. and have threatened not to ratify.   

Last week, 130 members of Congress signed a letter to Obama and Kerry urging them to reject the measure for this and other reasons. 

"As your review of the treaty continues, we strongly encourage your administration to recognize its textual, inherent and procedural flaws, to uphold our country's constitutional protections of civilian firearms ownership, and to defend the sovereignty of the United States, and thus to decide not to sign this treaty," the lawmakers wrote. 

The chance of adoption by the U.S. is slim, even if Obama goes ahead and signs it -- as early as Monday, or possibly months down the road. A majority of Senate members have come out against the treaty. A two-thirds majority would be needed in the Senate to ratify. 

What impact the treaty will have in curbing the estimated $60 billion global arms trade remains to be seen. The U.N. treaty will take effect after 50 countries ratify it, and a lot will depend on which ones ratify and which ones don't, and how stringently it is implemented. 

The United Nations has organized a high-level signing ceremony at U.N. headquarters on Monday -- a sign of the treaty's global importance -- and several dozen countries are expected to sign, the first step to ratification. 

The Control Arms Coalition, which includes hundreds of non-governmental organizations in more than 100 countries that promoted an Arms Trade Treaty, said it expects many of the world's top arms exporters -- including Britain, Germany and France -- to sign alongside emerging exporters such as Brazil and Mexico. It said the United States is expected to sign later this year. 

The coalition noted that more than 500,000 people are killed by armed violence every year and predicted that "history will be made" when many U.N. members sign the treaty, which it says is designed "to protect millions living in daily fear of armed violence and at risk of rape, assault, displacement and death." 

Many violence-wracked countries, including Congo and South Sudan, are also expected to sign. The coalition said their signature -- and ratification -- will make it more difficult for illicit arms to cross borders. 

The treaty 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. 

It prohibits states that ratify it from transferring conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. The treaty also prohibits the export of conventional arms if they could be used in attacks on civilians or civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals. 

In addition, the treaty requires countries to take measures to prevent the diversion of conventional weapons to the illicit market. This is among the provisions that gun-rights supporters in Congress are concerned about. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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