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By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The world's top weapons exporters agreed to back negotiations on a global treaty to regulate the world's $55 billion arms trade, but Russia refused to show support, diplomats said on Thursday.
The deal came after negotiators from four of the top arms traders -- the United States, Britain, France and Germany overcame sharp disagreements on the wording of a U.N. General Assembly resolution that will guide negotiations on a treaty, which were to begin next year and conclude in 2012.
Diplomats said the 192-nation assembly was expected to formally approve the resolution on Friday, despite Russia's decision to abstain from the vote. The resolution is a key step in getting a treaty that Britain's disarmament ambassador John Duncan said was long overdue.
"There is an immediate real world crisis beyond the debate in the U.N., where 2,000 people are killed each day because we have no effective regulation of the international arms trade," he said. "The world community must deal with this."
The British aid organisation Oxfam International, one of the groups that has long advocated such a treaty, issued a statement welcoming the deal and urged U.N. member states to push for a tough treaty that makes it difficult for human rights violators to get weapons to kill their own people.
While a treaty may impose stricter controls on nations that lack proper export controls, diplomats said it will not be a panacea and rogue governments and militants will probably keep seeking black market options.
RUSSIA ABSTAINS
Diplomats said Russia's decision to abstain from Friday's vote showed there was less than unanimous support for tougher regulations among the big arms suppliers and that negotiations on the treaty will be tough.
Negotiations on the resolution nearly collapsed this month after the United States agreed to join the treaty drafting process on condition that it be run on the basis of consensus -- effectively giving Washington a veto.
President Barack Obama's decision to back talks on a global arms trade treaty reversed the position of former President George W. Bush's administration, which had opposed it on the grounds that national controls were better.
Diplomats involved in the haggling over the U.N. resolution said Germany and Ireland initially rejected the idea of consensus, expressing concern that arms exporters such as India, Pakistan, Russia and others would also have a veto and could try to weaken any future treaty.
For example U.S. officials have accused Russia of selling weapons to countries its considers human rights violators like Belarus, Iran, Syria, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.
But the diplomats said Duncan led successful efforts to persuade Berlin and Dublin that the concession was worth it to have the United States -- which controls some two thirds of the world's arms trade -- on board.
Washington, they said, had argued that it needed to be able to block an outcome that would permit international standards that are lower than the extremely strict U.S. criteria for international weapons sales.
More permissive standards would put U.S. arms makers at a competitive disadvantage because U.S. firms could be barred from selling to certain foreign governments under U.S. law while their competitors abroad could trade with those same governments under a weak U.N. treaty.
Key issues when negotiations begin in 2010 will include what criteria governments will have to fulfil to get a green light for arms sales and how compliance will be monitored.
The resolution to be voted on in the General Assembly also includes a paragraph that diplomats said was essential for the United States, where the right to private gun ownership is an sensitive domestic political issue. The paragraph says national governments will continue to regulate domestic arms sales.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)

Reuters