UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to bridge their differences and agree on a treaty regulating the international arms trade. Ban lamented "very limited progress" hours before the deadline.
Diplomats in New York have been working for weeks on a draft of a global Arms Trade Treaty, an idea that has been in the pipeline since 2006.
The international arms trade is currently unregulated. It's estimated to be worth at least $60 billion (around 49 billion euros) per year, but precise figures cannot be ascertained. Some countries do self-regulate, imposing their own rules on buying and selling arms, but they are not obliged to do so.
The three-week UN conference needed to deliver a "robust and legally binding treaty that will have a real impact on the lives of those millions of people suffering from the consequences of armed conflict, repression and armed violence," Ban said.
Admitting that three weeks of talks on a treaty first proposed in 2006 had yielded "very limited progress" so far, Ban said "we owe it to all the innocent civilians" affected by the arms trade to reach a deal.
Gun control, perhaps, but not bullets
To be ratified, all 193 countries involved in the negotiations need to agree to the deal. Countries like Syria, North Korea, Iran, Egypt, Algeria or Cuba have had their reservations from the start, but there's not even a guarantee that major Western powers will endorse the move.
Under the previous president, George W. Bush, the US voted against an arms trade treaty back in 2006. President Barack Obama had reversed this stance, but is under heavy pressure at home to resist any bold restrictions on the weapons industry.
A group of 51 senators, only eight of them Democrats, wrote an open letter to Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday, asking them not to approve anything that would impact upon the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. This amendment says that a "well regulated militia" is "necessary to the security of a free state." The provision was written in 1791, less than a decade after the American Revolutionary War and during a lawless period of open conlict with the indigenous populations of North America.
The US has also categorically opposed any obligation for countries to submit information on exports of ammunition - something that therefore will not be involved in the treaty. Rights groups have urged the Obama administration to set a positive example in the difficult talks.
"The end is in sight for a global arms treaty, but its success depends on the United States," Scott Sedjan, a senior policy advisor with Oxfam America, said. "Washington needs to back a strong text to prevent the negotiations from collapsing."
Campaigners like Oxfam and many UN members wanted weapons exports to be tied to the recipient country's respect for human rights - a stipulation that is reportedly unlikely to be included in any treaty.
msh/lw (AFP, AP, dpa)