- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2001

NEW YORK — The United Nations completed a landmark accord on international gun control yesterday, but only after U.S. negotiators won a series of concessions to protect the constitutional right of Americans to own arms.
Though nonbinding, the 16-page document approved by more than 160 nations marks the first global agreement covering handguns, rifles and small missiles that are used in civil wars and rebellions throughout the world.
The United States, by winning nearly every concession it sought during the two-week conference, alienated many participants who spent yesterday afternoon criticizing America's tolerance of gun ownership.
But U.S. delegates praised the final document and ignored the anger and frustration of other diplomats and conference participants.
"This is the beginning, not the end of an important process to which we are all committed, " said Herb Calhoun, a member of the U.S. delegation.
"We're convinced that the program of action we've agreed to will serve as a solid basis to a robust small arms and light weapons regime. We believe it will have an immediate effect on relieving the suffering in the affected regimes, " Mr. Calhoun said.
Delegates worked through the night to reach the final accord shortly before dawn yesterday.
The agreement capped an often-emotional conference that sought to build international agreement on how to limit the flood of illegal small arms and light weapons into conflict zones.
The document — a nonbinding blueprint for nations, regional groups and international bodies to curb handguns, rifles and small missiles — was substantially weakened in the final hours of negotiations at Washington's insistence, many participants said.
The Americans refused to accept any language that could halt the sale of weapons to foreign militias, citing the need to keep open the option of aiding groups fighting genocidal regimes.
The United States, citing the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, also demanded that the document be stripped of limits on the civilian ownership of guns.
As negotiations continued into Saturday morning, delegates finally to the U.S. demands.
That, in turn, led to a tongue-lashing by many non-U.S. delegates, who after a sleepless night appeared disappointed by the outcome.
"I must, as [conference] president, express my disappointment in the conference's inability to agree — due to the concerns of one state — on language recognizing the need to establish and retain controls on private ownership of these deadly weapons, and the need for preventing sales of such arms to nonstate groups, " said Colombian Ambassador Camillo Reyes, who ran the two-week conference.
Representatives of Mexico, China, Switzerland, Cuba, Canada, South Africa, Vietnam, Egypt and Mali also lamented that the document was not as strong as they had hoped for.
The United States had from the beginning opposed any attempt to limit civilian ownership of "military style weapons, " a phrasing in an earlier version of the document. U.S. officials said the phrasing could be applied to every gun and rifle because all are based on military designs.
Arms control advocates and delegates from many nations, including traditional U.S. allies, said they were taken aback by Washington's rigid negotiating position, which they said was shaped by domestic concerns at the expense of international needs.
"It is unfortunate that the conference could not fully achieve what we all would have wanted and could not meet the expectation of the international community, the victims of the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in particular, " said a Vietnamese delegate, speaking on behalf of Southeast Asian nations.
The U.N. Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects, as the effort was formally known, stretched into overtime, with delegations poring over the draft text into the dawn hours several nights last week.
Many of those who convened for the final session yesterday afternoon wore casual polo shirts. Some appeared pale and exhausted at the conference site, which smelled like a locker room.
"The conference has squandered a golden opportunity to commit itself to proactive measures needed to tackle gun violence around the world, " said Sally Joss, a coordinator of the International Action Network on Small Arms, an umbrella group of 320 organizations from 70 nations that supported a stronger program of gun control.
The group, which represented most of the accredited nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) monitoring the conference, also criticized delegates' failure to commit to future legally binding treaties.
"It's the job of the NGOs to always want more," said Nadine J. Goldring, executive director of the University of Maryland's Program on General Disarmament. "In fact, it's not a bad document, there is a lot of compromise in here."
The National Rifle Association (NRA) was present throughout the conference, but its lobbyists kept a low profile, apparently satisfied with the U.S. negotiators.
Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican and an NRA board member, served on the U.S. delegation. He held two news conferences that emphasized the Second Amendment rights of American citizens.
The United Nations had stressed that the conference would not seek to limit legally owned weapons, but U.S. negotiators remained wary of the "incrementalism" of U.N. mandates.

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