After a month of discussions, the United Nations was unable to reach an agreement on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), with many nations blaming the United States for scuttling the vote at the 11th hour.
Representatives from over 170 countries converged on New York City this month to debate the treaty, which would require countries to assess if proposed arms exports could be used to violate international humanitarian or human rights law.
The Obama administration reversed the long-standing U.S. position against the treaty in 2009, saying they would support stronger regulation of the $60 billion a year global arms trade industry.
However, after a month of talks, the U.S., along with Russia and China, procedurally blocked an agreement on the treaty. The delegations said there were issues still left to be resolved that led to their inability to sign off on the treaty language.
"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," State Department Spokesman Toria Nuland said in a statement released Friday. "The current text reflects considerable positive progress, but it needs further review and refinement."
Some pundits and NGOs have accused the U.S. bowing to domestic pressure and scuttling the deal at the last minute to prevent a vote on the treaty until after the presidential elections this year.
"With one person dying every minute because of armed violence, there is an imperative for powerful states to lead," Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said. "President Obama has asked for more time to reach an agreement. How much more time does he want?"
"Today the United States did not grab the golden ring: an international arms treaty that would have bolstered our country's reputation as a leader on human rights," Oxfam senior policy advisor Scott Stedjan said.
"Moving forward President Obama must show the political courage required to make a strong treaty that contains strong rules on human rights a reality. It was this courage that was missing from this week," he added.
Gun control law in the United States was thrown into stark relief last week after a neuroscience student entered a Colorado theater and fired multiple rounds from four weapons strapped to his body. The shooting resulted in the deaths of 12 people - as well as an uptick in gun sales across the country.
It also triggered the hotly debated issue to once again enter onto the domestic political stage. A deeply divisive issue shaped by voters' personal experiences, gun control has been avoided by both the campaign of Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
The administration is aware the UN treaty does not interfere with domestic arms possession and sales. It's U.S. representative to the UN ATT conference Donald Mahley acknowledged this month that "this treaty will regulate only the international trade in arms."
However, domestic pressure to avoid all mentions of weapons regulation remains stark. Last week, 51 U.S. senators from both parties wrote a letter to President Obama and Secretary Clinton stating their opposition to the treaty.
"Our country's sovereignty and the constitutional protection of these individual freedoms must not be infringed," the letter read.
The White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-N.V.) have made it clear they will not be moving forward on gun control legislation this year, choosing to push the issue past the November general election.
"There is an issue about the stalemate in Congress [on gun control legislation], and there are things that we can do short of legislation and short of gun laws, as the President said, that can reduce violence in our society," White House Spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Thursday.
Diplomats at the UN remain optimistic further talks on a draft treaty could lead to a vote on a final ATT by the end of the year. While the U.S. was calling for unanimous agreement on the ATT during this month's conference, a vote on a draft treaty would only require a 2/3 majority to pass the general assembly.
by RTT Staff Writer
For comments and feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org