The arms trade treaty
In July, the United States derailed U.N. negotiations on a landmark treaty regulating the $70 billion global arms trade, triggering charges by arms control advocates that it feared support for the pact would weaken President Obama's standing in U.S. presidential elections. The administration, which then claimed it needed more time to review the draft treaty, voted Wednesday alongside other major arms exporters, Britain, China, France, and Germany to begin talks on a treaty in March. (The vote was initially scheduled before the U.S. election, but was rescheduled after Superstorm Sandy led to the U.N.'s temporary closure.)
The move sparked protests from the American gun lobby, which portrayed the vote as a threat to the Second Amendment, which enshrines the right of gun ownership in the United States. But supporters of the treaty said it would not infringe on the Second Amendment, instead arguing that it would constrain the unregulated sale of weapons that fuel conflicts around the world. "This treaty could be a signature accomplishment for the administration at the United Nations within coming months," said Suzanne Nossel, the president of Amnesty International USA. "The fact that they've taken this position will enable them to lead on this issue."
The civil war in Syria will continue to represent one the greatest security challenges for the United States at the United Nations, one which they may not be able to resolve here. There are no signs at this point that the American presidential election will make Russia any more willing to allow the United States and its Western partners to use the Security Council to apply pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
For the time being, there are divergent tracks to addressing the crisis: one military, and the other diplomatic. Earlier this week, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that Britain would establish contacts with leaders of the armed opposition. "There is an opportunity for Britain, for America, for Saudi Arabia, Jordan and like-minded allies to come together and try to help shape the opposition, outside Syria and inside Syria, and try to help them achieve their goal, which is our goal of a Syria without Assad." The U.N.-Arab League special representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, meanwhile, has been pursuing a negotiated settlement, and is trying to convince the United States and Russia to back a negotiated settlement that would lead to a transitional government, but one that remains unclear about the fate of the Syrian president. Assad, for his part, made it perfectly clear in an interview with Russia Today, saying that he intends to "live and die" in Syria.