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UN Arms Trade Treaty ready for signatures, but will US sign?

The treaty to regulate weapons transfers between countries, approved by majority in the UN General Assembly in April, is now open for signatures.

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(Burak Kara/AFP/Getty Images)

The landmark global arms trade treaty, approved by majority vote in the United Nations General Assembly in April, is on Monday open and ready for signatures, though it's unclear what effect the treaty will have on the estimated $60 billion business.

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the first international legislation of its kind, will require nations to regulate cross-border sales and purchases of conventional weapons. Domestic weapons sales are beyond jurisdiction.

The treaty covers small and large arms, including combat aircraft and warships. According to the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs, ATT will help "stop destabilizing arms flows to conflict regions" and help "prevent human rights abusers and violators" from obtaining weapons.

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Though many applaud such goals, it's still unclear what impact the treaty would have on regulating the international arms trade, and even then, much depends on which countries sign on and how they intend to follow the treaty.

Hector Timerman, Argentina's foreign minister, became the first to sign at the UN headquarters in New York City. The UN said 61 more nations from Latin America, Africa and Europe fixed their names on the treaty, with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle due to sign very soon.

So will the United States, the world's largest arms exporter, sign the treaty? Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the US "welcomes the opening of the Arms Trade Treaty for signature," and looked forward to signing it once official translations were completed.

About a month ago on a conference call with reporters, Thomas Countryman, the US lead delegate on ATT, said it could be a few months or longer before the US government signs on the dotted line:  

"For any treaty the United States carefully studies it. It’s looked at from all angles by many different agencies, and any statements of clarification about how we interpret the treaty or how we will implement it are prepared before the president is asked to give his signature. That takes, even for a treaty simpler than this one, usually a few months. I’m reluctant to give any specific timeframe. I can only say that as with any other treaty, it will get a careful review by every relevant agency of the US government before it goes to the president for signature."

The Control Arms Coalition, a large international group in more than 100 countries that supports the global regulation or arms, said it believes weapons exporters, such as Germany, Britain and France, and even Brazil and Mexico, will sign. It also said it expects the US to sign later this year, though a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate is needed for ratification. 

To that end, the treaty has come under fire from the National Rifle Association and US lawmakers who say they fear the treaty will infringe on the domestic right to own and sell firearms.

Last week, 130 members of Congress sent a letter to Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry saying the treaty is wrong.

"As your review of the treaty continues, we strongly encourage your administration to recognize its textual, inherent and procedural flaws, to uphold our country's constitutional protections of civilian firearms ownership, and to defend the sovereignty of the US, and thus to decide not to sign this treaty," lawmakers wrote.

On April 2, the day the UN General Assembly approved the ATT, Kerry released a statement of support and addressed those who think it would interfere with their Second Amendment rights.

"By its own terms, this treaty applies only to international trade, and reaffirms the sovereign right of any State to regulate arms within its territory," he wrote. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/politics/130603/un-arms-trade-treaty-ready-signatures