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UN adopts landmark treaty to regulate multibillion-dollar global arms trade

The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the first U.N. treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar international arms trade Tuesday, a goal sought for over a decade to try to keep illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters and organized crime.

The resolution adopting the landmark treaty was approved by a vote of 154 to 3 with 23 abstentions. As the numbers appeared on the electronic board, loud cheers filled the assembly chamber.

A group of treaty supporters sought a vote in the 193-member world body after Iran, North Korea and Syria blocked its adoption by consensus at a negotiating conference last Thursday. The three countries voted "no" on Tuesday's resolution.

Many countries, including the United States, control arms exports. But there has never been an international treaty regulating the estimated $60 billion global arms trade.

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

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.

For more than a decade, activists and some governments have been pushing for international rules to regulating the arms trade.

Hopes of reaching agreement at a U.N. negotiating conference 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 negotiating conference to agree on a treaty and set last Thursday as the deadline.

After two weeks of intensive negotiations, there was growing optimism as the deadline approached that all 193 member states would approve the final draft treaty by consensus — a requirement set by the United States. This time, the U.S. was prepared to support the final draft treaty. But Iran, North Korea and Syria objected.

Iran said the treaty had many "loopholes," is "hugely susceptible to politicization and discrimination," and ignores the "legitimate demand" to prohibit the transfer of arms to those who commit aggression. Syria cited seven objections, including the treaty's failure to include an embargo on delivering weapons "to terrorist armed groups and to non-state actors." And North Korea said the treaty favors arms exporters who can restrict arms to importers that have a right to legitimate self-defense and the arms trade.

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 and is under U.S. and European Union sanctions. Amnesty International said all three countries "have abysmal human rights records — having even used arms against their own citizens."