By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Hours after U.S. President Barack Obama was re-elected, the United States backed a U.N. committee's call on Wednesday to renew debate over a draft international treaty to regulate the $60 billion global arms trade.
U.N. delegates and gun control activists have complained that negotiations collapsed in July largely because Obama feared attacks from Republican rival Mitt Romney if his administration was seen as supporting the pact, a charge the United States denies.
The month-long talks at U.N. headquarters broke off after the United States - along with Russia and other major arms producers - said it had problems with the draft treaty and asked for more time.
But the U.N. General Assembly's disarmament committee moved quickly after Obama's re-election to approve a resolution calling for a new round of talks March 18-28. It passed with 157 votes in favor, none against and 18 abstentions.
U.N. diplomats said the vote had been expected before Tuesday's U.S. presidential election but was delayed due to Superstorm Sandy, which caused a three-day closure of the United Nations last week.
The U.S. mission had no immediate comment.
Countries that abstained included Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Belarus, Cuba and Iran. China, another major arms producer that has traditionally abstained from votes on this issue, voted in favor.
The resolution now goes to the 193-nation General Assembly for a formal vote. It is expected to pass.
The resolution said countries are "determined to build on the progress made to date towards the adoption of a strong, balanced and effective Arms Trade Treaty."
It also expressed "disappointment that (the July treaty session) was unable to conclude its work to elaborate a legally binding instrument on the highest possible common international standards for the international transfer of conventional arms."
ADVOCACY GROUP: STRONG TREATY NEEDED
The resolution says that if all states are not able to agree on a deal in March, the United Nations will keep the treaty on its current agenda. So if the March talks fail, the General Assembly could vote on it in 2013.
Jeff Abramson, Director of Control Arms, an coalition of advocacy groups, urged states to agree on a strong treaty.
"Every day we are reminded of the need to bring the arms trade under control," he said. "In Syria, we have seen the death toll rise well over 30,000, with weapons and ammunition pouring in the country for months now."
"While agreeing on a deal next year is what's needed, we do not want any arms trade treaty," he said. "We need a treaty that will set tough rules to control the arms trade, that will save lives and truly make the world a better place."
Britain's U.N. mission said on its Twitter feed it hoped that the March negotiations can agree on the final text of a treaty. Such a pact would then need to be ratified by the individual signatories before it could enter into force.
The National Rifle Association, the powerful U.S. interest group, strongly opposes the arms trade treaty and had endorsed Romney.
Arms control advocates had hoped Obama would back the treaty if he was re-elected.
The United States has denied it sought to delay negotiations for political reasons, saying it had genuine problems with the draft as written.
(Editing by Xavier Briand and Stacey Joyce)