Iran continues to evade U.N. sanctions on its nuclear program by changing its supply routes, erecting new front companies, and shopping the world for lower grade parts not explicitly prohibited by the U.N. Security Council, but still capable of contributing to the assembly of a nuclear power reactor. That's according to a "confidential" unpublished report by a U.N. Security Council panel monitoring sanctions on Iran, exclusively published by Turtle Bay.
The 45-page report - which summarizes the U.N. panel's work over the past year - documents several cases in Europe and the Middle East where Iranian agents have sought to procure a host of industrial products -- including valves, carbon fiber, and bellows -- that can be used in a nuclear facility. The equipment, however, is not explicitly prohibited from being sold to Tehran, making it easier to get similar items through customs.
"The panel continues to be told by many states that Iran is seeking items that fall below established control thresholds but could be used for prohibited activities," the report states. "All of the nuclear related cases investigated by the panel during its current mandate involve items that are not to be found among the [control] lists" that states are banned from supplying Tehran.
Iran reacted sharply to the report, telling Turtle Bay that the panel's findings are flat wrong. "The reports by the Panel of Experts are erroneous and lack credible authenticated information," Alireza Miryousefi, the spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, said in an emailed statement. "From our standpoint we should not give any value to those reports."
U.N. Secretary Ban Ki moon registered concern today about the foreign supply of weapons to Syrian combatants, placing the top U.N. official at odds with the Obama administration as it presses ahead with plans to arm the rebels.
"I have been making it consistently clear that providing arms to either side would not address the current situation," he said in a press conference at U.N. headquarters. "There is no such military solution. Only a political solution can address the issue sustainably." Ban initially misspoke saying that "stemming the flow of arms to either side would not be helpful."
Ban did not directly criticize the U.S. decision to step up its support for the armed opposition, but he made it clear that he believes it will complicate efforts to promote efforts a political solution to the crisis.
"There is no military solution to this conflict, even if both the government and the opposition, and their supporters, think there can be, " Ban said. "The military path points directly towards the further disintegration of the country, destabilization of the region, and inflammation of religious and communal tensions."
Citing concern about the increasing pace of killing in Syria, Ban said that he is striving "very hard" to pave the way for a U.S.-Russian sponsored peace conference on Syria in Geneva. U.S. and Russian planning for the conference-which was initially planned for late May-has been stalled over differences about who should attend the conference and who would represent the combatants.
Ban's remarks came shortly after he received a letter from the United States detailing new evidence it claims indicates that the Syrian authorities likely used the nerve agent sarin on a small scale. Ban voiced appreciation for the U.S. submission, but he cautioned that "any information on the alleged use of chemical weapons cannot be ensured without convincing evidence of the chain of custody." Establishing that, he explained, would require the U.N. chemical weapons team be granted access to Syria so it can "collect its own samples and establish the facts."
On March 20, Syrian authorities initially invited the U.N. chief to establish an "impartial" chemical weapons team to investigate its claims that Syrian rebels used chemical weapons in the village of Khan al Assal near Aleppo. Ban quickly established a team, headed by a Swedish chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom, to lead the investigation. But negotiations over access bogged down after Ban agree to a joint request by Britain and France to expand the inquiry to examine rebel claims that Syrian authorities used chemical weapons.
Ban and Susan E, Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, today pressed Syria to relent and to allow the chemical weapons team into the country. "We think it's high time that that access be granted," Rice said in her final press appearance at U.N. headquarters as U.S. ambassador.
Russia, meanwhile, has expressed skepticism about the veracity of American claims. "The contacts we have with American experts did not convince our experts that in fact the information which was presented was convincing enough to come to a definitive conclusion that government forces used chemical weapons," Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin told reporters.
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Courtesy of the United Nations
At least 92,901 people have lost their lives in Syria's bloody civil war. And the pace of killing is quickening, with death toll nearly five times what it was in 2011.
The latest count of the fallen, released this morning in Geneva by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, marks a dramatic increase in the rate of killing since January, when the United Nations estimated that nearly 60,000 people had died in a conflict that is resulting in the deaths thousands each month and shows no sign of abating.
"The constant flow of killings continues at shockingly high levels - with more than 5,000 killings documented every month since last July, including a total of just under 27,000 new killings since December," Pillay said. "Unfortunately, as the study indicates, this is most likely a minimum casualty figure. The true number of those killed is potentially much higher."
The release of the new figures comes at the Obama administration is facing persistent pressure to help the rebels withstand an increasingly effective counteroffensive. Former President Bill Clinton told Senator John McCain in a closed door press event, which was later leaked, that President Obama should offer more decisive support for the Syrian rebels, saying the American public needs to be able "see down the road" and "to win."
"Nobody is asking for American soldiers in Syria," Clinton said. "The only question is now that the Russians, the Iranians and the Hezbollah are in there head over heels, 90 miles to nothing, should we try to do something to try to slow their gains and rebalance the power so that these rebel groups have a decent chance, if they're supported by a majority of the people, to prevail?"
The U.N. figures were compiled with the help of a West Coast non-profit, the Human Rights Data Analysis Group. that crunches data to unlock patterns of mass killing around the world. Applying a data mining technique called an "alternating decision tree," the data analysis group's team, led by Megan Price, compiled basic fatality figures -- such as victims' ages, time and place of death -- from eight separate data sets, including those maintained by the Syrian government and opposition groups, including the oft-cited Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The data analysis group's statisticians pored through a combined list of 263,055 reported fatalities compiled by the eight groups and including a name of a person and the date and location of their purported deaths. Fatalities from each list was compared with the others to ensure there was no duplication. More than 150,000 names were subtracted from the total figure because they had been included in multiple lists. The team estimates that the final count is likely an underestimate. Their judgment is based on the fact that they had to exclude as many 37,988 reported killings "containing insufficient information," according to Price.
"The analysis shows a dramtic increase in the average monthly number of documented killing since the beginning of the conflict, from around 1,000 per month in the summer of 2011 to an average of 5,000 per month since July 2012." Between July and October 2012, a particulary bloody stage in the conflict, more than 6000 a month were killed.
The U.N. has repeatedly accused the Syrian government of responsibility for the vast majority of killings, but the armed opposition have continued to use increasingly lethal means in their insurgency. Pillay accused the government of conducting the daily shelling of key towns and villages with strategic missiles and cluster and thermobaric bombs. The rebels, the UN said. have also "shelled residential areas, albeit using less firepower, and there have been multiple bombings resulting in casualties in the heart of cities, especially Damascus."
"This extremely high rate of killing, month after month, reflects the drastically deteriorating pattern of the conflict over the past year," Pillay said. "Civilians are bearing the brunt of widespread violent and often indiscriminate attacks which are devastating whole swaths of major towns and cities, as well as outlying villages."
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Revelations of widespread data mining by the National Security Agency may be sending shock waves across America and Europe, where digital privacy concerns have been mounting in recent years.
But the disclosure of the NSA's efforts to gather information from companies like Google, Yahoo, and Verizon came as little shock to foreign diplomats here at U.N. headquarters -- even though many members of the Security Council are uniquely vulnerable to American surveillance sweeps, because they rely on commercial email systems. Secretary General Ban Ki moon, a former South Korean foreign minister who likely relied on spies during his years in government, has shown little interest in weighing in on the controversy, according to U.N.-based diplomats.
For years, those diplomats say, they have taken it for granted that their phone calls, emails, and social media interactions are being monitored by spy agencies from the United States, China, Russia, and many other countries.
"In our view it's normal," Atoki Ileka, the Democratic Republic of the Congo's former U.N. envoy, told Turtle Bay in a telephone interview from Paris, where he currently serves as his country's ambassador. "It's not just a U.S. thing, or Russian, or French. It's common in all countries; spies going through our web sites, emails. It's something we are used to and living through."
Several U.N. based diplomats and officials interviewed for this story said they shared similar expectations -- that most of their electronic and digital communications are being monitored by friendly and unfriendly governments.
"I think we all assume all of our emails are being monitored by all sorts of countries," said one senior U.N. official, who like most others interviewed for this piece spoke by telephone or communicated by email on the condition of anonymity.
Another top U.N. official echoed that sentiment, adding that he had not heard that any of his colleagues had responded to the current surveillance uproar by cancelling their accounts with Yahoo or any of the other American service providers that reportedly cooperated with the American intelligence agency. "People are too electronically engaged in the web to quit it," the official said. Indeed, a senior East European diplomat who routinely communicates with me by email sent me a message on another topic this morning from a personal Gmail account.
Still, the latest revelations have highlighted particular vulnerabilities for poor countries that lack the financial wherewithal to secure their email communications. For instance, a review of the email lists for U.N. Security Council political councilors -- the diplomats who organize the council's daily business -- shows that countries like Azerbaijan, Rwanda, Russia, and Pakistan communicate with their colleagues on commercial Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo accounts. Chinese diplomats communicate with their council partners through a combination of government email addresses and Gmail. In contrast, the United States, Britain, and France communicate through government emails, and they send encrypted email cables to capital through secure lines.
Electronic espionage has had a place of pride in U.N. history since the organization's birth, according to an account in Stephen C. Schlesinger's history of the U.N. founding. At the opening U.N. conference in San Francisco in 1945, U.S. Secretary of State Edward Stettinius routinely reviewed the secret diplomatic cables sent by his colleagues to foreign capitals. The U.S. Army Signal Security Agency, the forerunner of the National Security Agency, forced commercial telegraph companies to hand over hundreds of pages of secret diplomatic messages.
Even in modern times, U.N.-based espionage operations involving U.S., Russian, or nationals from other countries periodically come to light. The first major round of Wikileaks cables published by the Guardian and the New York Times included a cable that instructed American diplomats to collect information on their colleagues. In the run up to the Iraq war, a British newspaper reported that the National Security Agency had ordered an eavesdropping "surge" on their telephones in order to learn their voting positions on a resolution that would pave the way for a U.S.- led war against Iraq. "The fact is, this sort of thing goes with the territory," Pakistan's then U.N. ambassador, Munir Akram, told me at the time. "You'd have to be very naive to be surprised."
In the wake of such revelations, said one European diplomat, some diplomats take precautionary actions, for instance limiting their email communications to secure government accounts. But over time most drop their guard, exchanging notes through government or commercial email accounts alike. The feeling, the diplomat said, is that the United Nations, with its 193 member states, holds few secrets. On the most sensitive matters, communications are passed on by secure emails, word of mouth, exchanged in document form by hand, or made available for "eyes only" within the secure confines of a foreign mission.
Still, while many diplomats are cavalier they say their political counterparts back home are not, given the rising public backlash against American digital giants like Facebook and Google. In Eastern Europe, the scene of intensive eavesdropping during the Cold War, the latest revelations have only increased concern about the loss of privacy. In Germany, for instance, Google faced intense opposition to its digital street mapping program. Today, a digital stroll down some of Berlin's main boulevards reveals pixilated buildings.
U.N. officials said that the U.N.'s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, is considering issuing a statement criticizing American surveillance practices. But here at U.N. headquarters the top brass have hardly taken note of the latest disclosure. The issue, said one U.N. official, is not on the "radar screen" of U.N. policy makers in New York, "probably further proof that we operate in a bubble, cut off from the real world."
If further proof were needed, the official delivered those remarks to Turtle Bay by email. Even PRISM, the official noted, "doesn't seem to stop us being indiscreet."
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The U.N. Security Council struggled this evening to prevent the collapse of a beleaguered mission that has helped maintain peace between Israel and Syria along the Golan Heights for nearly 40 years.
The fate of the mission -- the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) -- was placed in jeopardy this week when the Austrian government announced plans to withdraw the largest national contingent, some 380 Austrian peacekeepers, from the mission, which currently has 913 troops. The Austrian announcement followed a surge of fighting between Syrian regime forces and rebels in the U.N.-monitored demilitarized zone.
"Freedom of movement in the area de facto no longer exists. The uncontrolled and immediate danger to Austrian soldiers has risen to an unacceptable level," Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann and his deputy Michael Spindelegger said Thursday in a joint statement. It continued, noting that "further delay (in withdrawing the troops) is no longer justifiable."
The U.N. Security Council met in an emergency session tonight to review the options for preserving the mission. Britain's U.N. ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, who is serving as the Security Council president for June, told reporters after the meeting that the United Nations has appealed to Austria to delay their pullout in order to give it the chance to find replacements.
Lyall Grant said the U.N. peacekeeping department has been in urgent discussions with countries that still have troops in the mission -- including India, which has nearly 200 blue helmets and the Philippines, which has roughly 350 -- to reinforce their contingents. It has also reached out to new countries, including Fiji, which was already planning to send a relatively small contingent of blue helmets, to send more.
Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that his government is willing to replace the Austrian contingent with a battalion of at least 300 blue helmets. But he noted that any decision would require agreement by the Israeli and Syrian governments, because their 1974 truce bars any of the five permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- from participating in the mission. He also said he asked the U.N. legal department to determine whether a new Security Council resolution may be required.
Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Syrian crisis today in a phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But it was unclear whether Putin asked the Israeli leader to approve a Russian peacekeeping role in the Golan.
Council diplomats were puzzled by the Russian offer, noting that Moscow is one of Damascus's main military suppliers, and that Russian blue helmets would likely be targeted by Syrian rebels. They said they considered it unlikely that Israel or the Security Council's western powers would approve a Russian role in the Golan Heights. The U.N., meanwhile, made clear that Russia could not participate under existing conditions.
"We appreciate the consideration that the Russian Federation has given to provide troops to the Golan," Martin Nesirky, the U.N.'s chief spokesman told reporters. "However, the Disengagement Agreement and its protocol, which is between Syria and Israel, do not allow for the participation of permanent members of the Security Council in UNDOF."
The U.N. mission first deployed U.N. blue helmets to the Golan in 1974, following the Yom Kippur War. The lightly armed observers were initially mandated to help maintain a cease fire, monitor the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian troops, and finally to oversee an "area of separation" between the rival powers pending a full-fledged peace agreements. The two combatants never made peace, however, the demilitarized zone has remained relatively calm for the past four decades.
But the area has emerged in recent months as a key battlefield between the Syria rebels, who initially sought a safe haven in the area, and the Syrian government, which has moved heavy weapons into the area of separation -- a violation of the terms of the 1974 cease-fire agreement -- to drive the rebels out. U.N. peacekeepers have been the target of an increasing number of attacks, hijackings, and abductions that have heightened concern among governments about the mission's viability. Fighting along the Golan Heights has already prompted other U.N. peacekeeping contingents -- from Croatia and Japan -- to leave the region.
Lyall Grant said the U.N. Security Council is "united in expressing their concern" about the ongoing fighting in the Golan and the proposal to withdraw troops." Everyone agreed that UNDOF should continue in its mission, even if temporarily reduced in its ability to fulfill the current mandate," he said.
The U.N. peacekeeping department, he said, is "trying to encourage the Austrians to slow down their departure from the theater and dissuade any other current troop contributors from withdrawing troops. I think we are in a serious situation and we need to work together to try to protect the mission from collapse."
Lyall Grant said that the U.N. mandate in the Golan might not be sustainable over the long term. He said the U.N. peacekeeping department would present the Security Council with a set of options before June 26, when the mission's mandate expires, on whether the mission's mandate needs to be "strengthened, ended, or changed in the light of current circumstances."
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Some Republicans looked like they were set up for a new fight against President Barack Obama's nominee for to replace Susan Rice as U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, former journalist and Harvard scholar, who has written critically of what she viewed as America's moral failure in the face of modern genocides in Africa and the Balkans.
"Jeanne Kirkpatrick is turning in her grave right now," Keith Urbahn, a former chief of staff to former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted this morning. "I don't know about you, but it might be helpful to have someone rep'ing America at UN who doesn't think we are the source of world's ills."
But by the time President Barack Obama announced Power's and Rice's nominations at a White House ceremony things were beginning to look up. As the Cable reported, Republican conservatives were voicing report for the Power. And Senator John McCain, who had vigorously opposed Rice's nomination to become U.S. Secretary of State, issued a statement backing Power. "I support President Obama's nomination of Samantha Power to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nation," McCain said. "I believe she is well qualified for this important position and hope the Senate will move forward on her nomination as soon as possible."
Yet Urbahn cited a lengthy article by Power in the March 2003 issue of the New Republic, the same month the United States entered Iraq, a conflict which epitomized for her the Bush administration's "overreliance on power in the name of principle."
In that piece, Power faulted the United States for applying double standards -- what she termed "a la cartism" -- in the conduct of its foreign policy, griping about the "shortage of democracy in Palestine, but not in Pakistan," or bombing Serbs in defense of ethnic Albanians but saying nothing about Russian excesses in Chechnya.
Power argued that America's international standing and credibility required that Washington also confront the darker chapters of its foreign policy past -- CIA-backed coups in Guatemala, Chile, and Congo, and the doubling of U.S. assistance to Saddam Hussein the year he gassed the Kurds.
"We need a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, permitted by the United States," she wrote. "Willie Brandt [the former German Chancellor] went down on one knee in the Warsaw ghetto, his gesture was gratifying to World War II survivors, but it was also cathartic for Germany," she wrote. "Would such an approach be futile for the United States?"
The New Republic piece, as well as many other published writings, including her book, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, will provide fertile ground for Republicans to pick through for signs of her political suitability.
Power has long had a deep interest in the United Nations, which she covered as a freelance reporter in the Balkans in the 1990s. She wrote a biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil, the U.N. trouble-shooter who was killed in the Aug. 2003 terrorist attack against the U.N. compound in Baghdad.
But if Power survives the confirmation hearing, she may have some explaining to do here in New York. Before joining the Obama administration, where she served as the National Security Staff's expert on international organizations and U.N. peacekeeping, Power had provided a withering assessment of the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Here's my account of her remarks:
During then Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign, a top foreign-policy advisor, Samantha Power, spoke disparagingly of Ban, characterizing his handling of the Darfur crisis as "extremely disappointing," in a Frontline interview. Ban ‘looks to be adopting the persona of many of his predecessors in that job, which is to be more of a secretary than a general. Darfur needs a general. Not a military general, it needs a diplomatic general, a political general, a moral general. It doesn't need a secretary."
"Is that all there is?" she told the New Statesman, a British magazine, before Obama was elected. "Can we afford to do without a global figure, a global leader?" U.S. officials have insisted that Power's comments do not reflect the views of the current administration, in which Power serves as a White House advisor on multilateral issues.
Obama administration officials have previously noted that the remarks were not made while she was in government and that said that she has since patched up her relationship with Ban.
But Power has also directed sharp criticism of the human rights conduct of other key U.N. powers, including China and Russia. The U.N. Security Council, she noted in her New Republic piece, is "anachronistic, undemocratic, and consists of countries that lack the standing to be considered good faith arbiters of how to balance stability against democracy peace against justice and security against human rights."
Hmm, this is going to be interesting...
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Ed.: This post has been updated to reflect Sen. John McCain's statements in support of Power's nomination.
Speaking at the Russian mission to the United Nations, Churkin said that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov will make the case for Tehran's participation in a meeting Wednesday in Geneva with top U.S. officials, including Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. The United States has opposed Tehran's presence in talks on an international political settlement in Syria, arguing that Iran has been arming the Syrian government and has no interest in a political transition.
The dispute over Iran's participation in political talks has held up agreement on a U.S. and Russian proposal to bring Syrian government and opposition leaders together at an international conference to bring an end to the civil war. The U.S. and Russian delegation are aiming to overcome their differences in tomorrow's talks, and will hopefully schedule a date for the peace conference, which was supposed to be set for this month.
"There are two immediate issues which need to be clarified: Who is going to represent the opposition? And then who is going to be invited" from outside the country," Churkin said. "We are arguing that Iran should be invited; some are saying Iran should not be invited."
Churkin said that Russia also favors the attendance of other key regional powers, including Egypt, which did not appear at a previous diplomatic summit on Syria hosted by former U.N.-Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan, and Saudi Arabia, which has supplied arms to the opposition. "We are in favor of having all of those who can have influence."
For two years, the United States and Russia have been sharply divided over the approach to containing the Syrian crisis, with Washington calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power, and Moscow, which insists that Syria's leader have a say in the country's political future. Russia has cast its veto three times to block the Security Council from adopting a resolution compelling Assad to accept a political transition that would lead to his demise.
"If you go back and look at this whole saga of Syria and our vetoes in the Security Council, I think the problem was that really we felt that the United States and those who actively supported the United States were out to effect forcible regime change," Churkin said. "And we were, as a matter of principle and as a matter of geopolitics, if you will. Against that because we felt that would bring about a chain of events...which was going to be extremely dangerous to Syria and for the region."
Despite U.S. and Russian differences, Churkin said that the former Cold War adversaries have been working productively over Syria. While accusing Britain and France of seeking to continue to foment regime change, Churkin said the United States has been "more realistic in seeing the situation in Syria as less simplistic than some West European countries."
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Russian diplomatic talks on Syria are unfolding amid fresh reports of chemical weapons use in Syria. A U.N. human rights panel issued a report indicating there were "reasonable grounds" to believe that forces loyal to Assad has used limited amounts of chemical weapons on at least four occasions in March and April. Separately, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that a French lab confirmed the "presence of sarin in the samples in our possession" and that it "now is certain that sarin gas was used in Syria multiple times and in a localized way."
Britain's U.N. envoy Mark Lyall-Grant said that his government believe there is evidence that small amounts of sarin have been used in Syria.
"The evidence that we have suggest that there is a use of a number of different variants of chemical agents, a combination of agents, in some cases sometimes including sarin, sometimes not," he told reporters a press conference at U.N. headquarters. "It is relatively small quantities but notheless repeated use."
"Our view is that there has been credible evidence that in small quantities chemical weapons have been used by the regime in Syria," he added. "We have no evidence that the opposition either possesses or has used chemical weapons."
In advance of the Geneva talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that Moscow may be reconsidering its plans to deliver advanced S-300 advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. "It is a very serious weapon," Putin said. "We do not want to upset the balance of power in the region."
Despite the increased U.S. and Russian cooperation on Syria, Moscow continues to block any action on Syria in the U.N. Security Council. Last month, Russia rejected a request by Jordan to send a Security Council delegation to Jordan to witness the refugee plight and to help Jordan cope with the overwhelming financial costs of tending to their needs.
Churkin said that "one of the problems" with approving the trip was that it would be unfair to the Palestinians, who have been seeking a Security Council visit for more than three years. But he said the "main problem" is that "we didn't see that the Security Council should get involved in the refugee situations at this point." Russia was also concerned that some non-permanent members of the council made it clear that their interest in having that mission of the Security Council to Jordan was to build a bridge towards humanitarian corridors, no-fly zone...essentially dragging Jordan into the Syrian. If you want to deal with the actual refugee situation then let's deal with the refugee situation. We can send experts. Or we can have a conference on refugees."
Churkin also said that he had rejected a proposal by Britain over the weekend to adopt a U.N. Security Council press statement condemning Syria for its brutal siege of the town of Qusayr. The Russian envoy complained that the statement was "not balanced."
Churkin also touched on the history of prickly relations with his American counterpart, Susan Rice. Despite their differences, Churkin said that they "do have a very good personal and working relationship. " But he said that "sometimes we have clashed, and sometimes we have clashed in a nasty way. Do I do it on purpose? Of course not."
But he sounded as though he may relish the jousts. Once, he recalled, at a Security Council retreat he quipped: "I regard my day as wasted if I don't pick a fight with Ambassador Rice. But that was a joke."
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More than 60 nations today signed the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty at U.N. headquarters, displaying a strong show of support for the world's first international pact regulating the $70 billion international arms trade.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the official opening of the treaty for signatures. But he said that while the Obama administration intends to sign the treaty, he would not join dozens of other leading allies from Britain, France, Germany, Japan, in doing so today.
"The treaty is an important contribution to efforts to stem the illicit trade in conventional weapons, which fuels conflict, empowers violent extremists, and contributes to violations of human rights," Kerry said in a statement. "The United States welcomes the opening of the Arms Trade Treaty for signature, and we look forward to signing it as soon as the process of conforming the official translations is completed satisfactorily."
Kerry offered no explanation as to why a matter so technical as "translation" had held up American action. But U.N. diplomats familiar with the dispute said that the United States remains unwilling to commit until the lengthy, sometimes contentious, process of translating the treaty, which was negotiated in English, is written down in the other official U.N. languages -- Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish.
The United States had challenged the translation of certain words and passages into foreign languages, including Spanish and Russian. Last week, the U.N. posted the corrections and the U.N. membership has 90 days to challenge the final translation. The United States will considering offering its signature after that process is completed.
The 193-nation U.N. General Assembly adopted the Arms Trade Treaty 154 to 3 on April 2, overcoming stiff opposition from Iran, North Korea, and Syria and drawing the enthusiastic backing of the United States. But the treaty will not go into force until 90 days after at least 50 nations have ratified the pact. April's U.N. vote (which drew 23 abstentions) revealed broader misgivings by dozens of countries, including Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan -- which argued the treaty would extend unfair advantages to the world's largest arms exporters. Two major arms exporters, China and Russia, also abstained on the vote.
Argentina's Foreign Minister Hector Timmerman was the first person to sign the treaty.
Alistair Burt, Britain's parliamentary undersecretary of state, said his government would "aim to ratify" the treaty within a year. "After 10 years of campaigning and 7 years of negotiation the Arms Trade Treaty has opened for signature and the international community has queued up to sign it," he said. "The treaty is now the international blueprint for the regulation of conventional arms and it is a fresh starting point for international cooperation."
Under the treaty, states are banned from transferring arms to countries, including Iran and North Korea, that are subject to U.N. arms embargoes, or to countries believed to be preparing to use them to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.
The treaty would require governments to establish a national record-keeping system that would allow them to track the trade in conventional arms, and to ensure that weapons are not illegally diverted to terrorist organizations or other armed groups. It would also require that governments conduct a risk assessment to determine the likelihood that arms exports are being used to violate or abuse human rights, particularly against women or children.
The arms treaty would apply to several categories of conventional arms, including battle tanks, combat aircraft, warships, attack helicopters, missiles, and small arms. The treaty includes exemptions that would allow the consideration of defense cooperation agreements between governments and allow states to transfer weapons across international borders, so long as the weapons remain under that state's control.
The National Rifle Association has vowed to vigorously oppose ratification of the treaty in the Senate, claiming it would weaken the Second Amendment.
But Kerry countered today that the treaty "will not undermine the legitimate international trade in conventional weapons, interfere with national sovereignty, or infringe on the rights of American citizens, including our Second Amendment rights."
"The treaty will require the parties to implement strict controls, of the kind the United States already has in place, on the international transfer of conventional arms to prevent their diversion and misuse and create greater international cooperation against black market arms merchants," Kerry said.
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.