U.S. reverses stance on treaty to regulate arms trade

(Reuters) – The United States reversed policy on Wednesday and said it would back launching talks on a treaty to regulate arms sales as long as the talks operated by consensus, a stance critics said gave every nation a veto.

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 Treaty 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.”

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