Iran, Syria and North Korea on Friday objected to the adoption of the first international treaty to regulate the $70 billion global conventional arms trade, complaining that it fails to ban weapons sales to rebel groups.
Peter Woolcott of Australia, the president of the U.N. Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, adjourned the final session of the 10-day meeting to hold last-minute consultations with the dissenting delegates in an attempt to persuade them to join the consensus needed to approve the draft treaty.
U.N. diplomats said there was still a chance Woolcott could salvage the process and secure the required unanimity to adopt the treaty on Thursday. If the conference fails to adopt it, it can be put to a vote in the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.
Syria and North Korea voiced serious concerns about the draft treaty, though they did not formally block its adoption. Iran was the only one of the 193 U.N. members to formally block approval of the draft, diplomats at the conference said.
Earlier, Woolcott told the conference that North Korea and Iran had formally blocked adoption, but diplomats said he later revised his statement, saying it was only the Iranians.
United Nations member states began meeting last week in a final push to end years of discussions and hammer out a binding international treaty to end the lack of regulation over cross-border conventional arms sales.
Arms control activists and human rights groups say a treaty is needed to halt the uncontrolled flow of arms and ammunition that they say fuels wars, atrocities and rights abuses.
Delegates to the treaty-drafting conference said on Wednesday they were close to a deal to approve the treaty, but cautioned that Iran and other countries might attempt to block it.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Iran's Press TV that Tehran supports the arms trade treaty. But Iranian U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee told the conference that he could not accept the treaty in its current form.
"The achievement of such a treaty has been rendered out of reach due to many legal flaws and loopholes," he said. "It is a matter of deep regret that genuine efforts of many countries for a robust, balanced and non-discriminatory treaty were ignored."
One of those flaws was its failure to ban sales of weapons to groups that commit "acts of aggression," ostensibly referring to rebel groups, he said. The current draft does not ban transfers to armed groups but says all arms transfers should be subjected to rigorous risk and human rights assessments first.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari echoed the Iranian objections, saying he also objected to the fact that it does not prohibit weapons transfers to rebel groups.
"Therefore it can't be accepted by my country," he said.
A North Korean delegate voiced similar complaints, suggesting it was a discriminatory treaty.
Iran, which is under a U.N. arms embargo over its nuclear program, is eager to ensure its arms imports and exports are not curtailed, diplomats said. Syria is in a two-year-old civil war and hopes Russian and Iranian arms keep flowing in, they added.
The United States and other major arms producers like Russia and China - all three of which had prevented its adoption last July - along with Germany, France and Britain appear to support the draft treaty, U.N. diplomats said.
The point of an arms trade treaty is to set standards for all cross-border transfers of conventional weapons. It would also create binding requirements for nations to review all cross-border arms contracts to ensure arms will not be used in human rights abuses, terrorism or violations of humanitarian law.