updated 10/31/2008 8:57:50 PM ET 2008-11-01T00:57:50

The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly endorsed the idea of an unprecedented treaty regulating the global arms trade Friday, despite opposition from the United States.

Of the U.N.'s 192 member nations, 147 voted in favor of drafting the treaty. Only the U.S. and Zimbabwe voted against it, with the other nations absent or abstaining.

Proponents say they hope to adopt a treaty within five years imposing controls on an international arms trade that contributes to the death of more than a 1,000 people every day. It would apply only to arms sales among nations, not commercial sales to individuals.

Britain, a $3 billion annual arms exporter, has been leading the effort with Japan, Australia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Kenya and Finland. They propose a legally binding treaty requiring governments to authorize weapons exports only after ascertaining that they will not provoke or prolong armed conflicts, aid in human rights abuses, destabilize countries or undermine peace in other ways.

"It has to be as universal as possible," John Duncan, Britain's ambassador for multilateral arms control and disarmament, said in an interview. "Some of us are manufacturers, but all nations are suppliers at one stage or another. And it's by closing those loopholes that we can stop arms flowing into the hands of criminals and terrorists."

Anna Macdonald, head of the "Control Arms" campaign for Oxfam International, said proper regulation of arms could help stanch the decades-long flow of weapons into conflict-wracked areas like eastern Congo.

The U.S., by far the biggest of the world's top 10 arms suppliers, objected to the treaty proposal because it called for simple majority decisions rather than "consensus" decisions that would have essentially given it and other nations veto power.

With nearly $13 billion in arms exports agreements in 2005, the U.S., along with other industrialized countries, generally keeps close oversight on arms sales. But dozens of nations have no regulations specific to weapons exports and imports, and most lack any laws governing the operations of private arms brokers.

In December 2006, 153 nations supported the idea of a treaty, with the U.S. casting the sole dissenting vote.

That vote opened consideration of an Arms Trade Treaty, with experts making recommendations about what might be included. Friday's vote moves discussions toward the nuts and bolts of possible treaty language.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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