UNITED NATIONS -- Negotiations scheduled to begin at the United Nations aimed at crafting the first binding treaty for the global weapons market were delayed because of a dispute over the observer status of the Palestinian delegation.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called off his opening speech and the official start of talks was now postponed until July 3 in the morning. Israel has reportedly said it would not take part in the talks if the Palestinians did get conference recognition. The negotiations were originally scheduled to run until July 27.
The majority of UN member states back a strong treaty to regulate the $60 billion world trade in weapons, but there are sharp divisions among some countries over how tough it should be.
Jeff Abramson, the director of the Control Arms Campaign, a U.S.-based umbrella organization of international arms-control campaigners, said that the goal is to improve upon what he called "a patchwork quilt at best [of regulation] that is easily abused."
"At the core of [the treaty] would be a set of criteria that states would use when they're engaged in the arms trade -- so these are things like human rights, international humanitarian law, socioeconomic development -- and there would be an assessment made about whether a particular arms transfer would have a substantial risk of violating those norms," Abramson said. "And if so, then the trade would not occur."
The treaty would require unanimous consensus by all member states. However, Brian Wood, international arms-control and human rights manager at Amnesty International, told reporters last week that if there was no consensus this month, nations supporting a strong pact could bring it to the 193-member General Assembly and adopt it with a two-thirds majority vote.
In a joint statement, Britain, France, Germany, and Sweden called the arms trade a "growing threat to humanity" and urged support for a legally binding, nationally enforced pact.
The United States is the world's biggest arms exporter, followed by Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia.
Consensus Hard To Achieve
Abramson of the Control Arms Campaign conceded that finding consensus on the details of the pact would be a challenge.
"The vast majority of states want this to happen [but] there are skeptical states or ones who raise a vision of the treaty that just doesn't gel with the rest of the world. How those states [will] act is a bit hard to tell," Abramson said
"When we get to the end if there's a strong treaty and there's only a couple of states who are worried about this, they have to take the international program of standing up and saying no, so it's unclear if they will do that."
One sticking point is whether adherence to human rights standards should be a criterion for governments giving approval to arms exports.
Arms-control advocates say international conflicts exacerbated by unethical arms trading are casting a shadow over the conference. Syria -- where the Bashar al-Assad regime's crackdown has been fueled by weapons from Russia and Iran -- is one example they cite.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has acknowledged that Russia's actions are legal under previous arms contracts with Syria, even as she condemned the continuing shipments and called for an arms embargo.
Another issue up for debate is whether the treaty should regulate the trade of ammunition -- which campaigners advocate for and which China, Egypt, Syria, and the United States were reportedly pushing to exclude.
Right To Self-Defense
A UN compilation of views on the elements of the treaty included statements from Pakistan, Ukraine, Macedonia, and Armenia.
Pakistan highlighted in its document the need for clarity over what types of weapons will be covered under the treaty, noting that there had been no consensus over this question during the preparatory meetings.
Ukraine stressed that the parameters of the treaty "must not impede legal trade" and that "the treaty should not constrain the right of states to self-defense, nor be seen as an international discriminatory instrument."
Armenia also emphasized that each state's right to self-defense should be "unconditional and fully respected."
Macedonia said that due to the region's recent bloody history, it strongly supported a treaty with as broad a scope as possible and the inclusion of a provision requiring states to regularly report on their adherence.