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The decision, announced in a statement released by the U.S. State
Department, overturns the position of former
President George W. Bush's administration, which had opposed such a
treaty on the grounds that national controls were better.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States would support
the talks as long as the negotiating
forum, the so-called Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, "operates
under the rules of consensus decision-making."
"Consensus is needed to ensure the widest possible support for the Treaty and to avoid loopholes in the
that can be exploited by those wishing to export arms irresponsibly,"
Clinton said in a written statement.
While praising the Obama administration's decision to overturn the Bush-era
policy and to proceed with negotiations to regulate conventional arms
sales, some groups criticized the U.S. insistence that decisions on the
treaty be unanimous.
"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 to prevent
irresponsible arms transfers," Amnesty International and Oxfam
International said in a joint statement.
However, they said insisting that decisions on the treaty be made by consensus "could fatally weaken a final deal."
"Governments must resist 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.
The proposed legally binding treaty would tighten regulation of, and set international standards for, the
export and transfer of conventional weapons.
Supporters say it would give worldwide coverage to close gaps in existing regional
and national arms export control systems that allow weapons to pass
onto the illicit market.
Nations would remain in charge of their arms export control arrangements but
would be legally obliged to assess each export against criteria agreed
under the treaty. Governments would have to authorize transfers in
writing and in advance.
The main opponent of the treaty in the past was the U.S. Bush administration,
which said national controls were better. Last year, the United States
accounted for more than two-thirds of some $55.2 billion in global arms
Arms exporters China, Russia and Israel abstained last year in a U.N. vote on the issue.
The proposed treaty is opposed by conservative U.S. think tanks like the Heritage Foundation,
which said last month that it would not restrict the access of
"dictators and terrorists" to arms but would be used to reduce the
ability of democracies such as Israel to defend their people.
The U.S. lobbying group the National Rifle Association has also opposed the treaty.
A resolution before the U.N. General Assembly is sponsored by seven
nations including major arms exporter Britain. It calls for preparatory
meetings in 2010 and 2011 for a conference to negotiate a treaty in