Talks on the $70 billion a year global arms trade hit deadlock before starting Monday amid a diplomatic battle over Palestinian representation.
Arab demands that Palestinians be allowed to take part led to a threat of an Israeli walkout and a block on European Union presence at the conference, diplomats said. Even the Vatican has been drawn into the dispute.
“This chaotic start is a tragedy for this event, which is so important,” said a minister from a western nation who went to the U.N. headquarters for the start of the negotiations.
Talks among the 193 United Nations members were meant to have started on Monday morning and gone on until July 27 to come up with a draft arms trade treaty.
However, tense negotiations over the Palestinian representation came to a head in the hours before the start. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called off his opening speech and it was not clear when the talks would begin, according to AFP.
Arab nations have demanded that the Palestinians, who have been seeking to bolster their international presence, get a place at the conference.
The Arab group said the European Union should not be allowed at the talks if the Palestinians do not get a place, diplomats said. “The Egyptians, acting for the Arab group, have held up the conference. They insisted that the Palestinians take part,” said one Arab diplomat.
The Palestinians are observers at the U.N. and the European Union has super-observer status. The Vatican, which is also a U.N. observer, has said it should also take part if the Palestinians get their way, diplomats said.
“Certain states, fearing an arms trade treaty with strong human rights provisions, are exploiting the legitimate Palestinian cause by delaying what supporters of a strong treaty have been working towards for seven years,” said one Western diplomat condemning Egypt’s action.
“This is not about Palestine. It is actually a transparent attempt to use procedural delays in a battle which they know that they cannot win on the arguments alone,” the diplomat added.
Israel, a key arms manufacturer in the Middle East, said it would not take part in the talks if the Palestinians did get conference recognition, Arab and Israeli sources said.
While the Palestinians have sought to bolster their international presence by asking for full U.N. membership, some diplomats indicated the move could be a tactic by Egypt and others to weaken the treaty.
U.N. states have spent seven years preparing for the talks on how to regulate the arms trade.
Ahead of the negotiations at U.N. headquarters, the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Germany and Sweden’s trade minister called for a comprehensive treaty.
While acknowledging that their countries bear “a special responsibility” as leading exporters, they said a solid treaty was need to counter “a growing threat to humanity” because of the numbers killed in conflict each day.
They said any treaty should be legally binding, but nationally enforced.
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