LONDON -- The five biggest arms-dealing countries in the world reached an accord yesterday on a set of "common guidelines for the export of conventional weapons," and agreed to inform one another about arms transfers to the Middle East with the aim of reducing tension in that turbulent region.
Richard A. Clarke, U.S. assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs, announced the "major breakthrough" following two days of meetings here by representatives of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
The five -- the United States, China, France, Britain and the Soviet Union -- account for 85 percent of the world's arms transfers, and an equal percentage of the arms that flow into the Middle East.
The Middle East has been at the top of the agenda for the five powers from the start of negotiations toward yesterday's agreement. They held their first meeting in Paris July 8-9.
They began with the Middle East "because it is the area of greatest tension in the world," said Mr. Clarke. "It is where most of the weapons are going."
Specifically, the five countries will monitor movement into the region of "priority weapons" such as armored combat vehicles, artillery, military aircraft and helicopters, naval vessels and certain missile systems.
The five also agreed to consult and exchange information generally on arms sales and transfers each makes. They said they "welcomed work at the United Nations General Assembly on the early establishment of a U.N. register of conventional arms transfers."
They also undertook "to seek effective measures" to curb the spread of nuclear and chemical and biological weapons throughout the world, as well as missile systems.
The accord states that the five powers recognize each state's right to acquire arms for adequate self-defense. But it asserts their determination "to adopt . . . an attitude of restraint regarding arms transfers."
To this end they would try to avoid arms sales and transfers that would "prolong or aggravate an existing armed conflict; increase tension in a region or contribute to regional instability; introduce destabilizing miliary capabilities in a region."
They would also seek to discourage the export of arms that "support or encourage terrorism," or cripple or undermine a country's economy, or that might be used for purposes other than legitimate self-defense.
The guidelines the five have applied to their own activities have no sanctions should they not be met.
"This is a voluntary agreement among the five," said Mr. Clarke. He added, "There has never been a series of guidelines like these." He implied that the consultations among the five and the openness of their dealings would in effect encourage restraint among them.
The countries will not be able to veto each other, he said, but it was hoped they could achieve "the same spirit of cooperation as in the gulf war."
The five countries agreed in July in Paris that they "would not transfer conventional weapons in circumstances that would undermine stability." Since then they have drafted mechanisms to implement this promise.