US demands vote on United Nations arms trade treaty next week

The Obama administration is demanding that the U.N. General Assembly vote on an arms trade treaty opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) next week, abandoning its earlier insistence on consensus.

The conference drafting the text broke up Thursday afternoon without reaching a deal after North Korea (DPRK), Syria and Iran objected. The United States immediately joined 11 other countries demanding a vote in the General Assembly after the president of the conference delivers his report on Tuesday.

“The U.S. regrets that it was not possible today to reach consensus at this conference on an arms trade treaty,” said Tom Countryman, the assistant secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation and head of the U.S. delegation to the Arms Trade Treaty Conference. “Such a treaty would promote global security, would advance important humanitarian objectives, and it would affirm the legitimacy of the international trade in conventional arms.”

He said the text that failed to reach consensus Thursday was “meaningful,” “implementable,” and “did not touch in any way upon the constitutional rights of American citizens.”

“We look forward to this text being adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in the very near future,” Countryman told reporters in a conference call Thursday night. “It's important to the United States and the defense of our interests to insist on consensus. But every state in this process has always been conscious of the fact that, if consensus is not reached in this process, that there are other ways to adopt this treaty, including via a vote of the General Assembly.”

Countryman said a vote is expected as early as next week. That could be delayed if states reopen the treaty for further changes, however.

“The United States will vote in favor,” Countryman said. “We think an overwhelming majority of states will vote in favor. I'm happy to vote the opposite direction of such states as Iran, North Korea and Syria on this text.”

The treaty would require that states institute internal mechanisms for ensuring that their exports of conventional weapons aren't likely to be used to violate humanitarian law. The treaty is opposed by the National Rifle Association and a majority of U.S. senators, but the administration says it would have no impact on domestic Second Amendment rights.

Asked if the rogues' gallery of states that opposed the treaty would make it harder for the NRA and lawmakers to continue opposing it, Countryman took an oblique dig at the treaty's critics.

“I don't really do domestic politics,” Countryman said. “All I can say is, for myself, I would much rather be on opposite sides of Syria, Iran and DPRK than join them in criticism of this treaty.”

He added that the treaty would help rather than harm U.S. arms makers.

“Currently the United States already has the highest standard in the world regulating the export of conventional arms. This treaty will bring much of the rest of the world not up to the American standard, but much closer to the American standard. And in that sense, I believe it levels the playing field and gives American manufacturers a better competitive position in the world.”

If the treaty is approved by the U.N., Countryman said, President Obama wouldn't sign it until it's “looked at from all angles by many different agencies,” and the United States issues statements of clarification on how it interprets the treaty and how it would be implemented. That process usually takes several months.