UNITED NATIONS - Member states failed to reach agreement Friday on a new U.N. treaty to regulate the multibillion dollar global arms trade, and some diplomats and supporters blamed the United States for triggering the unraveling of the monthlong negotiating conference.
Hopes had been raised that agreement could be reached on a revised treaty text that closed some major loopholes by Friday's deadline for action. But the U.S. announced Friday morning that it needed more time to consider the proposed treaty — and Russia and China then also asked for more time.
The U.N. General Assembly voted in December 2006 to work toward a treaty regulating the growing arms trade, with the U.S. casting a "no" vote. In October 2009, the Obama administration reversed the Bush administration's position and supported an assembly resolution to hold four preparatory meetings and a four-week U.N. conference in 2012 to draft an arms trade treaty.
The United States insisted that a treaty had to be approved by the consensus of all 193 U.N. member states.
Ambassador Roberto Garcia Moritan, the conference chairman, said treaty supporters knew "this was going to be difficult to achieve" and there were some delegations that didn't like the draft though "the overwhelming majority in the room did." He added that some countries from the beginning of negotiations had "different views" on a treaty, including Syria, Iran and North Korea.
Despite the failure to reach agreement, Moritan predicted that "we certainly are going to have a treaty in 2012."
He said there are several options for moving forward in the General Assembly which will be considered over the summer, before the world body's new session begins in September.
The estimated $60 billion international arms trade is unregulated, though the U.S. and other countries have their own rules on exports.
The powerful National Rifle Association in the U.S. has portrayed the treaty as a surrender of gun ownership rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The politically controversial issue has re-emerged since last week's shooting at a Colorado cinema that killed 12 people.
On Thursday, a bipartisan group of 51 senators threatened to oppose the treaty if it falls short in protecting Americans' constitutional right to bear arms. In a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the senators expressed serious concerns with the draft treaty that has circulated at the United Nations, saying that it signals an expansion of gun control that would be unacceptable.
Supporters of a treaty argue it would not affect law-abiding individual gun owners.
Britain has taken the lead in pushing for a treaty to reduce the impact of the illicit arms trade.
Ahead of Friday's meeting, Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg discussed treaty prospects with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in London and told reporters and both urged the treaty's adoption.
"Global rules govern the sale of everything from bananas to endangered species to weapons of mass destruction, but not guns or grenades," Clegg said. "This anomaly causes untold suffering in conflicts around the world. 1,000 people are killed daily by small arms wielded by terrorists, insurgents and criminal gangs."
The secretary-general said he was disappointed at the failure to agree on a treaty, calling it "a setback." But he said he was encouraged that states have agreed to continue pursuing a treaty and pledged his "robust" support.
At the end of the negotiating session, Mexico read a joint statement from more than 90 countries saying they "are determined to secure an Arms Trade Treaty as soon as possible."