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Nations Gather for Final U.N. Arms Trade Treaty Negotiations

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New York – Negotiators from around 150 countries gather in New York on Monday for a final push to hammer out a binding international treaty to end unregulated conventional arms sales, a pact that a powerful U.S. pro-gun lobby is urging Washington to reject. Arms control campaigners and human rights advocates say one person every minute dies worldwide as a result of armed violence, and that a treaty is needed to halt the uncontrolled flow of weapons and ammunition that they argue helps fuel wars, atrocities and rights abuses.

The U.N. General Assembly voted in December to relaunch negotiations this week on what could become the first global treaty to regulate the world’s $70 billion trade for all conventional weapons – from naval ships, tanks and attack helicopters to handguns and assault rifles – after a drafting conference in July 2012 collapsed because the United States, then Russia and China, wanted more time.

Delegates to the July conference said that Washington had wanted to push the issue past the November 2012 presidential election, though the administration of President Barack Obama denied that. The current negotiations will run through March 28. The United States says it wants a strong treaty. But Obama is under pressure from the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), the leading U.S. pro-gun group, to block the pact. The group has vowed to torpedo the convention’s Senate ratification if Washington backs it at the United Nations.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced conditional support for the treaty on Friday, saying Washington was “steadfast in its commitment to achieve a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty that helps address the adverse effects of the international arms trade on global peace and stability. But he repeated that the United States – the world’s No. 1 arms manufacturer – would not accept a treaty that imposed new limits on U.S. citizens’ right to bear arms, a sensitive political issue in the United States.

The NRA has dismissed suggestions that a December U.S. school shooting massacre in Connecticut bolstered the case for a global arms pact. It has also warned that the treaty would undermine U.S. citizens’ right to own guns, a position that supporters of the treaty say is false. The American Bar Association, an attorneys’ lobbying group, last month disputed the NRA position, saying in a paper “ratification of the treaty would not infringe upon rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.” (Reuters)

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