UN negotiations to draft the first international treaty on the multi-billion US dollar arms trade have ended without a deal and with some diplomats blaming the US for the deadlock.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday he was “disappointed” that member states failed to clinch an agreement after several years of preparatory work and four weeks of negotiations, calling it a “setback.”
Ban vowed “steadfast” commitment to obtaining a “robust” arms trade treaty, noting that countries had agreed to pursue negotiations.
“There is already considerable common ground and states can build on the hard work that has been done during these negotiations,” he added.
A number of diplomats said -Washington had refused to vote on the proposed text, saying it needed more time before the midnight deadline and was worried about pushback from the US Congress. Russia and other countries followed suit.
However, in a written statement issued late on Friday, US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the US supported a second round of negotiations, conducted on the basis of consensus, on the treaty next year.
While the illicit trafficking in conventional arms was an important national security concern for the US, Washington did not support a vote at the UN General Assembly on the current text, Nuland said.
“While we sought to conclude this month’s negotiations with a treaty, more time is a reasonable request for such a complex and critical issue,” the spokeswoman said. “The current text reflects considerable positive progress, but it needs further review and refinement.”
Conference chairman Argentine Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan said that some countries had objected to the final treaty draft.
The UN General Assembly would decide whether and when there would be more negotiations, he said.
In the end, 90 countries — including all EU members and states from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa — signed the text, saying they were “disappointed, but ... not discouraged” and vowing to finalize a treaty based on Moritan’s draft.
A consensus of all 193 countries involved in the talks had been required to agree on the accord.
The main French negotiator, French Ambassador Jean-Hugues Simon-Michel, said the failure to reach agreement was the “worst possible scenario” and that diplomats might now have to start all over again.
“The result is rather frustrating and the ball is now in the country of the General Assembly,” he added.
Rights groups were also quick to blame the stalemate on the US, where any treaty on conventional arms sales is vehemently opposed by the powerful gun lobby.
“It was a lack of political will on the part of [US] President [Barack] Obama to take this historic opportunity forward to reduce the effect of the illicit arms trade,” Arms Control Association executive director Daryl Kimball said.
He called for “leadership” from Washington, Moscow, London and other major arms exporters and importers, while Oxfam America senior policy adviser Scott Stedjan blamed the impasse on a lack of “political courage” from Obama.