UNITED NATIONS – Iran, North Korea and Syria blocked adoption of a U.N. treaty that for the first time would regulate the multibillion-dollar international arms trade. An agreement required agreement by all 193 U.N. member states. But other countries refused to let the treaty die.
In an unexpected twist, Mexico proposed that the conference go ahead and adopt the treaty Thursday without the support of the three countries, saying there was no definition of "consensus." Several countries supported the idea, but the Russian delegation objected and called the proposal "a manipulation of consensus."
Kenya said "the will of the overwhelming majority is clear" and that a letter will be sent to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a draft resolution asking the U.N. chief to bring the treaty before the General Assembly for adoption as soon as possible.
The Kenyan diplomat spoke on behalf of the United States, Britain, Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria and Norway.
"This is not failure," British Ambassador Jo Adamson said. "Today is success deferred, and deferred by not very long."
The Control Arms Coalition, representing about 100 organizations which have campaigned for a strong treaty, said the earliest the General Assembly could vote is April 2, when the chair of the negotiations, Australian Ambassador Peter Woolcott, will present his report to the full world body.
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.
Hopes of reaching agreement 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.
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 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.
Ahead of the vote optimism had been growing that the long-debated treaty would become a reality, but concerns remained that Iran and other countries would object.
Both Iran and North Korea are under U.N. arms embargoes over their nuclear programs, while the Syrian government 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."
Iran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said the draft treaty has major 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 representative 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."
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.