Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Down is up and up is down

'It seems very pretty,' she said when she had finished it, 'but it's rather hard to understand!' (You see she didn't like to confess, ever to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas — only I don't exactly know what they are!" So speaks Alice in Lewis Carrolls' Alice through the Looking Glass.

© Jesper Waldersten
Indeed, it was hard to escape the feeling that we too today had stepped through a mirror to an alternative world. For we heard Iran, Egypt, Malaysia, and a number of others, including those cited below--many of whom are not known for their unremitting hunger for an ATT--all complain that there was no real negotiation going on and no rolling text with which to negotiate.

India may have spoken for many when it said that there was a "general concern" to move forward with the negotiations. One could turn the proposals into a rolling text/conference room paper or ask states to submit treaty text by a specific deadline. It stated that there is a need to move forward, and India needs to see a text for negotiation. Syria similarly saw the need to begin "in a practical manner" the negotiation on a specific text. Time is flying. It will not be possible to negotiate if we wait longer. Negotiation should start quickly.

Cuba helped to give clarity to this seemingly parallel universe, by expressing its fear that there will be an attempt at the end to impose a text on the delegations. "Hopefully it is not the intention of the President"; however it was a realistic scenario "that needs to be avoided". There is, it too claimed, a need to start with a true negotiation exercise. So far it has been an exercise in repetition and general statements. The problem is that there is no text available for negotiation. The compilation of ideas is useful; however a document of this type is not an effective tool. It supported the views of others that a deadline should be established for delegations to submit concrete proposals to prepare a rolling text. (It added, in case of doubt, its view that the objectives of the ATT should be only to contribute to combating illicit trafficking in conventional weapons.) Syria agreed with this.

So, did we see a game-changer today, a watershed in what appeared to be a negotiating desert? The answer should come on Friday, when rolling texts on at least scope and implementation (and possibly other sections) will be presented by the respective chairs. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There's been very little shift in positions from delegations, which are as wide apart as ever on the key issues, but this was all too predictable given that there was no text to deliberate and on which to seek compromise. Until then, let us keep in mind the words of Alice and the Queen, which seem to describe a current mental state.

"I don't understand you," said Alice. "It's dreadfully confusing!"  
"That's the effect of living backwards," the Queen said kindly: "it always makes one a little giddy at first."    


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