Iran, North Korea and Syria held up agreement on the first global treaty on the $80 billion a year conventional arms trade.
The three states twice blocked moves to adopt a treaty by consensus at the end of 10 days of arduous talks at the UN headquarters.
Kenya announced that a coalition of countries from around the world would now take the treaty straight to the 193-member UN General Assembly next week for approval. It can be passed with a two thirds majority which is virtually assured.
The move by Iran, North Korea and Syria, all facing sanctions or international reprobation for their weapons programs or trading, caused widespread anger at the conference.
“This is not a failure, today is success deferred and deferred by not very long,” said Britain’s chief negotiator Jo Adamson.
“A good strong treaty has been blocked by the DPRK (North Korea), the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria but most people in the world want regulation and those are the voices that need to be heard,” she added.
The Amnesty International rights group called the blocking move “deeply cynical”.
All of the major arms producers — the United States, Russia, Germany, France, China and Britain — were ready to agree the treaty for which negotiations started in 2006.
The first major arms accord since the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would cover tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, as well as small arms and light arms.
It would aim to force countries to set up national controls on arms exports. They would also have to assess whether a weapon could be used for genocide, war crimes or by terrorists or organized crime gangs before it is sold.
Conference president Peter Woolcott of Australia had been about to bring the gavel down on an accord when Iranian, North Korean and Syrian ambassadors raised objections. After an hour of closed talks, a second attempt brought the same result.
“The inherent right of states to self-defense, to defend against aggression and preserve its territorial integrity is not addressed,” Iran’s UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee told the conference.
North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador Ri Tong-Il called the proposed treaty a “risky draft which can be politically manipulated by major arms exporters.” The envoy railed against arms embargos such as one his country faces over its nuclear weapons tests.
Syria’s UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari said the treaty should be more explicit on supplying arms to “terrorists” and “non-state groups” and that Syria would not be part of “an artificial consensus.”
Dozens of countries made it clear to the three that they were isolated. UN leader Ban Ki-Moon was “deeply disappointed” that the treaty was not agreed, said a UN spokeswoman.
US chief delegate Tom Countryman said the proposed draft “met our goals for a strong, balanced, effective and implementable text that could raise the bar on common standards for regulating international trade in conventional arms.”
He said the legitimate arms trade would not be “unduly hindered” by the treaty.
The United States had opposed ammunition coming under the full controls imposed by the treaty.
Even if the treaty is now agreed in the General Assembly, it may not get universal acceptance.
Russia said there are “omissions” in the treaty and “doubtful” provisions such as the failure to control arms transfers to non-state groups. Russia is particularly worried about weapons getting into the hands of Chechen rebels.
A Russian diplomat told the conference “we will be studying the draft extremely carefully” before deciding whether to sign it.
India also cast doubt on whether it would sign the treaty. Sujata Mehta, said: “The final draft has the tell tale marks of behind-the-scenes carve outs of exclusive interests of a select few countries.”