Obama punts on signing UN arms trade pact opposed by NRA

President Obama will not immediately sign a United Nations arms trade treaty opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) but is committed to doing so shortly, Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday.

Advocates for the pact had hoped the president would sign the treaty as soon as it became open for signatures on Monday, arguing that such a public display of support would create pressure on major arms dealers, such as Russia and China, to get on board.

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Kerry, however, said the administration still has concerns that the U.N.'s various translations of the pact don't include the same language.

“The United States welcomes the opening of the Arms Trade Treaty for signature,” Kerry said in a statement. “We look forward to signing it as soon as the process of conforming the official translations is completed satisfactorily.”

The NRA insists the pact is a U.N.-backed gun grab. A majority of senators have already said they oppose the treaty, making ratification impossible in the short-term.

Kerry pushed back against those concerns, saying the treaty would in no way infringe on Second Amendment rights.

Advocates for the treaty suggest the delay is, in part, politically motivated, and that the administration may wait until Congress is in recess this August to sign the treaty when few people are paying attention. 

They say the treaty, which the U.S. mission to the U.N. joined 155 other countries in approving in April, was originally in English and that the administration could make clear in its signing statement what its requirements are before the translations are revised.

Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, said he was "disappointed" by the delay but "confident the US will sign the treaty as expeditiously as possible."

"As a humanitarian organization, we’ve seen firsthand the impact of the global arms trade on innocent men, women and children in places like Syria and South Sudan. The time is now for the United States to lead by example and sign this treaty as swiftly as possible to stop dangerous weapons from reaching violent extremists and human rights abusers. There is no time left to wait.”

Here's Kerry's full statement:

United States Welcomes Opening of Arms Trade Treaty for Signature

The United States welcomes the opening of the Arms Trade Treaty for signature, and we look forward to signing it as soon as the process of conforming the official translations is completed satisfactorily. 

The Treaty is an important contribution to efforts to stem the illicit trade in conventional weapons, which fuels conflict, empowers violent extremists, and contributes to violations of human rights.  The Treaty will require the parties to implement strict controls, of the kind the United States already has in place, on the international transfer of conventional arms to prevent their diversion and misuse and create greater international cooperation against black market arms merchants.  The ATT will not undermine the legitimate international trade in conventional weapons, interfere with national sovereignty, or infringe on the rights of American citizens, including our Second Amendment rights. 

We commend the Presidents of the two UN negotiating conferences – Roberto Garcia Moritan of Argentina and Peter Woolcott of Australia – for their leadership in bringing this agreement to fruition.  We also congratulate all the states that helped achieve an effective, implementable Treaty that will reduce the risk that international transfers of conventional arms will be used to carry out the world’s worst crimes.

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