- Iran, North Korea, Syria block U.N. arms trade treaty
- North Korea readies rockets after U.S. show of force
- China to spend $16 billion to tackle Beijing pollution crisis
Posted: 28 Mar 2013 08:15 PM PDT
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran, Syria and North Korea on Friday prevented the adoption of the first international treaty to regulate the $70 billion (46 billion pounds) global conventional arms trade, complaining that it was flawed and failed to ban weapons sales to rebel groups.
To get around the blockade, British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant sent the draft treaty to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and asked him on behalf of Mexico, Australia and a number of others to put it to a swift vote in the General Assembly.
U.N. diplomats said the 193-nation General Assembly could put the draft treaty to a vote as early as Tuesday.
"A good, strong treaty has been blocked," said Britain's chief delegate, Joanne Adamson. "Most people in the world want regulation and those are the voices that need to be heard."
"This is success deferred," she added.
The head of the U.S. delegation, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman, told a group of reporters, "We look forward to this treaty being adopted very soon by the United Nations General Assembly." He declined to predict the result of a vote but said it would be a "substantial majority" in favour.
U.N. member states began meeting last week in a final push to end years of discussions and hammer out a binding international treaty to end the lack of regulation over cross-border conventional arms sales.
Arms control activists and human rights groups say a treaty is needed to halt the uncontrolled flow of arms and ammunition that they say fuels wars, atrocities and rights abuses.
Delegates to the treaty-drafting conference said on Wednesday they were close to a deal to approve the treaty, but cautioned that Iran and other countries might attempt to block it. Iran, Syria and North Korea did just that, blocking the required consensus for it to pass.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had told Iran's Press TV that Tehran supported the arms trade treaty. But Iranian U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee told the conference that he could not accept the treaty in its current form.
"The achievement of such a treaty has been rendered out of reach due to many legal flaws and loopholes," he said. "It is a matter of deep regret that genuine efforts of many countries for a robust, balanced and non-discriminatory treaty were ignored."
One of those flaws was its failure to ban sales of weapons to groups that commit "acts of aggression," ostensibly referring to rebel groups, he said. The current draft does not ban transfers to armed groups but says all arms transfers should be subjected to rigorous risk and human rights assessments first.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari echoed the Iranian concerns, saying he also objected to the fact that it does not prohibit weapons transfers to rebel groups.
"Unfortunately our national concerns were not taken into consideration," he said. "It can't be accepted by my country."
North Korea's delegate voiced similar complaints, suggesting it was a discriminatory treaty: "This (treaty) is not balanced."
Iran, which is under a U.N. arms embargo over its nuclear program, is eager to ensure its arms imports and exports are not curtailed, diplomats said. Syria is in a two-year-old civil war and hopes Russian and Iranian arms keep flowing in, they added.
North Korea is also under a U.N. arms embargo due to its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
Russia and China made clear they would not have blocked it but voiced serious reservations about the text and its failure to get consensus. A Russian delegate told the conference that Moscow would have to think hard about signing it if it were approved. India, Pakistan and others complained that the treaty favors exporters and creates disadvantages for arms importers.
If adopted by the General Assembly, the pact will need to be signed and ratified by at least 50 states to enter into force.
Several diplomats and human rights groups that have lobbied hard in favor of the treaty complained that the requirement of consensus for the pact to pass was something that the United States insisted on years ago. That rule gave every U.N. member state the ability to veto the draft treaty.
"The world has been held hostage by three states," said Anna Macdonald, an arms control expert at humanitarian agency Oxfam. "We have known all along that the consensus process was deeply flawed and today we see it is actually dysfunctional."
"Countries such as Iran, Syria and DPRK (North Korea) should not be allowed to dictate to the rest of the world how the sale of weapons should be regulated," she added.
The point of an arms trade treaty is to set standards for all cross-border transfers of conventional weapons. It would also create binding requirements for states to review all cross-border arms contracts to ensure arms will not be used in human rights abuses, terrorism or violations of humanitarian law.
The main reason the arms trade talks took place at all is that the United States - the world's biggest arms exporter - reversed U.S. policy on the issue after President Barack Obama was first elected and decided in 2009 to support an arms treaty.
Washington demanded that the conference be run on the basis of consensus because it wanted to be able to block any treaty that undermined the U.S. constitutional right to bear arms, a sensitive political issue in the United States. Countryman said the draft treaty did not undermine U.S. rights.
The National Rifle Association, a powerful U.S. pro-gun lobbying group, opposes the treaty and has vowed to fight to prevent its ratification if it reaches Washington. The NRA says the treaty would undermine domestic gun-ownership rights.
The American Bar Association, an attorneys' lobby group, has said that the treaty would not impact the right to bear arms.
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 28 Mar 2013 08:11 PM PDT
SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea put its missile units on standby on Friday to attack U.S. military bases in South Korea and the Pacific, after the United States flew two nuclear-capable stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula in a rare show of force.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed off on the order at a midnight meeting of top generals and "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation", the official KCNA news agency said.
The North has an arsenal of Soviet-era short-range Scud missiles that can hit South Korea and have been proven, but its longer-range Nodong and Musudan missiles that could in theory hit U.S. Pacific bases are untested.
On Thursday, the United States flew two radar-evading B-2 Spirit bombers on practice runs over South Korea, responding to a series of North Korean threats. They flew from the United States and back in what appeared to be the first exercise of its kind, designed to show America's ability to conduct long-range, precision strikes "quickly and at will", the U.S. military said.
The news of Kim's response was unusually swift.
"He finally signed the plan on technical preparations of strategic rockets of the KPA (Korean People's Army), ordering them to be on standby for fire so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland, its military bases in the operational theatres in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in South Korea," KCNA said.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported there had been additional troop and vehicle movements at the North's mid- and long-range missile sites, indicating they may be ready to fire.
"Sharply increased movements of vehicles and soldiers have been detected recently at North Korea's mid and long-range missile sites," Yonhap quoted a South Korean military source as saying.
It was impossible to verify the report which did not specify a time frame, although South Korea's Defense Ministry said on Friday that it was watching shorter-range Scud missile sites closes as well as Nodong and Musudan missile batteries.
The North has launched a daily barrage of threats since early this month when the United States and the South, allies in the 1950-53 Korean War, began routine military drills.
The South and the United States have said the drills are purely defensive in nature and that no incident has taken place in the decades they have been conducted in various forms.
The United States also flew B-52 bombers over South Korea earlier this week.
The North has put its military on highest readiness to fight what it says are hostile forces conducting war drills. Its young leader has previously given "final orders" for its military to wage revolutionary war with the South.
Despite the tide of hostile rhetoric from Pyongyang, it has kept open a joint economic zone with the South which generates $2 billion a year in trade, money the impoverished state can ill-afford to lose.
Pyongyang has also cancelled an armistice agreement with the United States that ended the Korean War and cut all communications hotlines with U.S. forces, the United Nations and South Korea.
"The North Koreans have to understand that what they're doing is very dangerous," U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.
"We must make clear that these provocations by the North are taken by us very seriously and we'll respond to that."
The U.S. military said that its B-2 bombers had flown more than 6,500 miles (10,461 km) to stage a trial bombing raid from their bases in Missouri as part of the Foal Eagle war drills being held with South Korea.
The bombers dropped inert munitions on the Jik Do Range, in South Korea, and then returned to the continental United States in a single, continuous mission, the military said.
Thursday's drill was the first time B-2s flew round-trip from the mainland United States over South Korea and dropped inert munitions, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.
Victor Cha, a North Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the drill fitted within the context of ramped-up efforts by the Pentagon to deter the North from acting upon any of its threats.
Asked whether he thought the latest moves could further aggravate tensions on the peninsula, Cha, a former White House official, said: "I don't think the situation can get any more aggravated than it already is."
South Korea denied suggestions on Friday that the bomber drills contained an implicit threat of attack on the North.
"There is no entity on the earth who will strike an attack on North Korea or expressed their wishes to do so," a spokesman for the South's Unification Ministry said.
Despite the shrill rhetoric from Pyongyang, few believe North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, will risk starting a full-out war.
Still, Hagel, who on March 15 announced he was bolstering missile defences over the growing North Korea threat, said all of the provocations by the North had to be taken seriously.
"Their very provocative actions and belligerent tone, it has ratcheted up the danger and we have to understand that reality," Hagel said, renewing a warning that the U.S. military was ready for "any eventuality" on the peninsula.
North Korea conducted a third nuclear weapons test in February in breach of U.N. sanctions and despite warnings from China, its one major diplomatic ally.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Warren Strobel, Paul Simao and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 28 Mar 2013 07:37 PM PDT
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China will spend 100 billion yuan (10.5 billion pounds) over three years to deal with Beijing's pollution, an official newspaper reported on Friday, as the government tries to defuse mounting public anger over environmental degradation.
Beijing's government has pledged to improve sewage disposal, garbage treatment and air quality, as well as crack down on illegal construction, the China Daily newspaper said, citing a three-year plan released on Thursday.
Air quality in Beijing, a city of around 20 million people, has mostly stayed above "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels since the beginning of this year.
Pollution was one of the key themes at the recent National Party Congress, where China's new leaders were confirmed. Many Chinese feel the government lacks bite when it comes to enforcing policies designed to protect the environment.
Beijing's plan includes laying or upgrading 1,290 km (800 miles) of sewage pipeline, building five garbage incineration plants, setting up 47 water recycling plants and upgrading 20 sewage disposal plants, said China Daily.
Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun called on the government to allow the private sector to participate in these investments.
The government also plans to curb illegal construction and land use, and will compile a list of illegal buildings for demolition next year, Beijing Deputy Mayor Wang Wei told China Daily.
Most of China's major cities are plagued by pollution of one sort or another. Earlier this month thousands of dead pigs were found floating in one of Shanghai's main water sources.
(Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Stephen Coates and Miral Fahmy)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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