- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Gun to their heads?

Some diplomats are questioning whether the French government is holding a diplomatic gun to the heads of an international group trying to control the legal and illegal sale of small arms and light weapons.
Those who want tight arms control are privately complaining that the French want to limit the work of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) to protect France's international weapons market in areas such as North Africa.
The latest complication is a struggle over whether to hold a major conference of the group of diplomats and arms experts in Paris, along with key details over the agenda. The EPG is considering relocating the planned May 2-4 meeting to Washington.
A decision must be made within the next 72 hours, a diplomat knowledgeable of the EPG's problems said yesterday.
"They have put up every possible stumbling block. The French have been acting as French as they could possibly be," the diplomat said.
Ambassador Peggy Mason, a Canadian member of the EPG and former arms control negotiator, described the conflict in diplomatic terms in a recent newsletter of the International Action Network on Small Arms.
She called a March planning meeting for the conference a "mixed blessing."
Representatives from 144 nations attended the meeting, where "many nations called for a broad scope for the conference, taking as their point of departure the undeniable linkage between illicit trafficking and the legal trade in conventional armaments," Mrs. Mason wrote.
"On the negative side, however, a few key states persisted in their efforts to limit the conference to a narrow law-enforcement focus."
An internal EPG document makes it clear the French were the primary "troublemaker." The document places the problem with the French Foreign Ministry, sometimes called the "Quai" because of its location on the Quai d'Orsay in Paris.
Foreign Ministry officials want to limit controls to some sort of identification markings on weapons from handguns to missiles. Diplomats advocating strong controls support an international registry of small arms and light weapons that could be used to trace smuggling to rebel groups or terrorists or other illegal resales.
"The agenda of the Quai is to have all attention focus on future marking, thus conveniently avoiding all the messy issues relating to current problems and the role of French weapons exports therein," the document said.

Security seat for India

The United States is prepared to give India "serious consideration" in its quest for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, according to U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Celeste.
He told a television interviewer over the weekend that Washington has not made a commitment to New Delhi, however. The United Nations has discussed the possibility of expanding the 15-member council.
"India is the largest democracy in the world and has one-sixth of the population of the world, [and] therefore must be taken seriously," Mr. Celeste told state-run Doordarshan television Sunday night.
"So I think the U.S. has to be prepared and will be prepared to give India a serious consideration.
"We have not made a commitment to India," he added.

A mischievous proposal

Rep. Edolphus Towns is practicing a bit of diplomatic mischief with an invitation to the Argentine ambassador to attend a concert tonight.
The New York Democrat last week wrote Ambassador Guillermo Gonzalez to attend the "Democracy Concert" sponsored by the Buenos Aires Yoga School (BAYS) and co-hosted by more than 20 members of Congress.
Members of the BAYS, a school of philosophy, have complained in congressional testimony about rape, torture, beatings and general harassment by Argentine authoritie.
The Argentine government has told Congress to stop interfering in its domestic affairs, so it is unlikely the ambassador will attend the celebration.
BAYS, which has an office in New York, is inviting anyone interested in a night of Argentine music and tango dancing to join them at 7 p.m. in Room 2168 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

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