July 5, the first full day of UN talks on a treaty to regulate the global arms trade, ended in very reluctant acceptance of even the next day's schedule by member states -- foreshadowing what could be difficult negotiations.
The treaty, which would be the first-ever binding arms trade agreement, must be adopted by consensus among UN states.
The monthlong talks were scheduled to kick off on July 2 but were delayed until the night of July 3 night after a dispute over whether nonmembers Palestine and the Holy See would be allowed voting rights.
After the July 4 holiday, states finally met to air their initial opinions on the treaty. But even a proposal for the next day’s schedule -- presented by Argentinian Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan, the president presiding over the negotiations -- was met with skepticism.
Moritan's proposal is to form two committees to meet in a mix of open meetings and closed consultations. One committee would look at the scope of the treaty, while the other would negotiate its objectives.
But several representatives -- including from Algeria, Cuba, India, Iran, North Korea, Spain, and Syria -- raised objections to the schedule. Some cited fear that their delegations didn't have enough members to have a presence at all the parallel meetings.
Moritan implored the member states to accept the schedule he had planned, if only for the next day.
"I am proposing for tomorrow -- for tomorrow only -- to have two committees," he said. "So if by tomorrow we do not have agreement for the week beginning July 6 to July 13, we do not continue with the committee."
Some states, including Cuba, Spain, and Syria, expressed anxiety at starting any formal consultations until a permanent schedule was laid out.
To that, Moritan replied, "Let's not lose one more day, because it would be a pity."
Portuguese Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, sounding slightly irritated after several hours of statements from different delegations, even suggested that the hour of statements scheduled for the next day would be a waste of time.
He asked Moritan if the statements were "purely liturgical," since they would be followed by afternoon consultations.
"We, for one, would be very ready to -- not to insist on a general statement by my delegation. Thank you very much. If it’s purely liturgical, I don't think we’ll participate in that," he said.
Moritan gently chided Cabral for his impatience -- telling him it was "not liturgical at all, but extremely important" for each delegation to express and listen to each others' views -- and adding that he hoped to see the delegation of Portugal present on July 6, unlike most of the previous day.
Looks like it will be a tough month ahead if UN members are to put aside sharp divisions on just how far-reaching a global arms-trade treaty should be -- as well as on the schedule.
-- Courtney Brooks