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USA joins arm trade treaty talks, but at high price

NGOs welcome US support but warn that proposal to give any Member State veto power would weaken not strengthen future Treaty

New York: Today’s announcement by the USA of support for the Arms Treaty (ATT) was welcomed by Oxfam International and Amnesty International, warning that Washington’s support comes at a very high price.

The shift in position by the world’s biggest arms exporter is a major breakthrough in launching formal negotiations at the United Nations in order irresponsible arms transfers. It shows that the Obama administration is serious about reducing the affects caused by the uncontrolled trade in conventional weapons. The US government, under the Bush Administration, is the only government to vote against the UN process toward an ATT in the past.

As part of its support the US government has given the condition that future negotiations include a veto clause, by stipulating that decisions must be taken by consensus. This, Oxfam and Amnesty International say, could fatally weaken a final deal.

“The world has waited a long time for the USA to come on board to support global Arms negotiations. Its involvement is vital for an effective agreement. Governments must resist any US demands to give any single state the power to veto the treaty as this could hold the process hostage during the course of negotiations. We call on all governments to reject such a veto clause." said Oxfam International’s policy adviser Debbie Hillier.

Governments are meeting this month in New York in a make-or-break meeting to kick start formal negotiations for a global ATT.

The two international organisations say that new international standards on arms transfers must be agreed in order to prohibit the transfer of arms likely to be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law or to undermine sustainable development.

“At long last the US government says that it wants a strong and robust Arms Treaty with the highest possible standards”, said Brian Wood of Amnesty International. “But by giving every single government the right to scupper the UN Conference in 2012, the US position could hugely weaken or delay agreement to tackle irresponsible arms transfers that shatter countless lives worldwide.”

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