The UK government was to try again yesterday to secure an internationally binding treaty to regulate the arms trade.
A similar UN initiative four years ago, aimed at curbing small arms, was blocked by US President George W. Bush, who feared confrontation with the US gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, one of the biggest vested interests in the country.
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was slated yesterday to set out details of a proposed treaty to regulate trade in conventional weapons, estimated to be worth about ?500 billion (US$955 billion) a year.
Saferworld, a UK-based pressure group pushing for control of the arms trade and organizer of the conference at which Straw was to outline his plans, said on Monday that small arms caused an estimated 300,000 deaths a year.
According to an advance draft of the speech, Straw was to say: "We should be clear that our goal is not a voluntary agreement, or a talking shop, but a treaty which is legally binding on all its signatories, putting on a firm statutory footing the principle of responsibility in arms exports."
Those who flout the treaty could be prosecuted.
Straw will pledge to put the proposed treaty on the agenda for a meeting in July of the G8, the world's richest countries which also include the biggest arms trades.
Before the summer, the UK Foreign Office will also organize a meeting of arms specialists from all countries interested in the treaty.
"The fact is that relatively `cheap and simple' conventional weapons, whether the guns of bandits and rebels, the bombs of terrorists or the tanks of repressive regimes, account for an enormous amount of avoidable human misery across the world, and hit the poorest and most vulnerable worst of all," according to the draft of Straw's speech.
He is likely to face opposition from the US, Russia and China.