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UN approves US arms treaty debate

UN has voted to restart talks on the arms treaty debate despite lobbying from US Rifle Association.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon speaking at the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil. Picture: The United Nations.

UNITED NATIONS - The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Monday to restart negotiations on a draft international treaty to regulate the $70 billion global trade in conventional arms, a pact the powerful US National Rifle Association has been lobbying hard against.

UN delegates and gun control activists have complained that talks collapsed in July largely because US President Barack Obama feared attacks from Republican rival Mitt Romney before the November 6 election if his administration was seen as supporting the pact, a charge US officials have denied.

The NRA, which has come under intense criticism for its reaction to the December 15 shooting massacre of 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, opposes the idea of an arms trade treaty and has pressured Obama to reject it.

But after Obama's re-election last month, his administration joined other members of a UN committee in supporting the resumption of negotiations on the treaty.

That move was set in stone on Monday when the 193-nation UN General Assembly voted to hold a final round of negotiations on 18-28 March in New York.

The foreign ministers of Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya and the United Kingdom - the countries that drafted the resolution - issued a joint statement welcoming the decision to resume negotiations on the pact.

"This was a clear sign that the vast majority of UN member states support a strong, balanced and effective treaty, which would set the highest possible common global standards for the international transfer of conventional arms," they said.

There were 133 votes in favour, none against and 17 abstentions. A number of countries did not attend, which UN diplomats said was due to the Christmas Eve holiday.

The exact voting record was not immediately available, though diplomats said the United States voted 'yes,' as it did in the UN disarmament committee last month. Countries that abstained from last month's vote included Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Belarus, Cuba and Iran.

Among the top six arms-exporting nations, Russia cast the only abstention in last month's vote. Britain, France and Germany joined China and the United States in the disarmament committee in support of the same resolution approved by the General Assembly on Monday.

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