US, Zimbabwe join at UN against arms trade controls

UNITED NATIONS – The United States and Zimbabwe may not be on the best of terms, but they had a rare moment of unity on Friday when their U.N. envoys joined forces to vote against establishing global arms trade standards.

Nearly 150 nations voted in favor of drafting a legally binding arms trade treaty that would tighten regulation of, and set international standards for, the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons.

The resolution presented to the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly, which focuses on disarmament and international security, passed with an overwhelming majority of 147 votes.

The United States and Zimbabwe cast the only votes against the resolution. Other arms exporting nations like China, Russia and Israel expressed their reticence by abstaining.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador John Sawers referred to the isolated pair of nay-sayers as "a rather curious combination."

The United States has been extremely critical of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and worked with Britain earlier this year on a failed attempt to persuade the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on him and other Zimbabwean officials.

"We hope that the next U.S. administration will look again at their approach on the arms trade treaty and recognize that this has benefits for all responsible arms manufacturers and traders," Sawers told reporters.

"The only impact it will have will be to bear down on the irresponsible and illegal transfer of weapons," Sawers said.

He said two conferences in March and July 2009 will work to negotiating the precise standards that will become part of an actual arms trade treaty.

U.S. DISLIKES ARMS CONTROLS

U.S. envoy Christina Rocca told the First Committee that the reason she voted against the resolution was that Washington feared it would lead to a "weak treaty" because it would need the support of major weapons manufacturers to get passed.

"We support the goal of promoting responsibility in arms transfers and reducing the destabilizing trade in illicit arms, but we do not believe a global arms trade treaty would accomplish that goal," she said.

Several diplomats said the vote was in keeping with the dislike the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has for international arms controls in general.

Amnesty International’s Brian Wood welcomed the vote, saying it "moves the world closer to an arms trade treaty with respect for human rights at its heart, the only way such a treaty can really stop the carnage."

He added that it was "shameful that the U.S. and Zimbabwe governments have taken an unprincipled stand today against a treaty that would save so many lives and livelihoods."

Anna Macdonald of Oxfam International said that the recent fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo showed what unregulated arms transfers can do.

She said irresponsible arms transfers "have flooded the world’s conflict zones for decades, fueling death, injury and poverty, such as is happening now in DRC