DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — In a moment of high drama at the end of nearly two weeks of talks on an international telecommunications treaty, the United States rejected a proposal negotiated by more than 190 countries on Thursday after delegates were unable to resolve an impasse over the Internet.
“It is with a heavy heart that I have to announce that the United States must communicate that it is unable to sign the agreement in its current form,’’ Terry Kramer, head of the US delegation, said moments after a final draft had been approved by a majority of nations.
The US announcement was seconded by Canada and several European countries after talks that had often pitted Western governments against developing countries. The talks were held under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency.
The acrimonious end to the talks does not mean international telephone calls or cross-border Internet traffic will suddenly be cut off. Countries that approved the final document could implement it on their own, with holdouts like the United States putting separate agreements in place.
The United States has consistently maintained that the Internet should not be mentioned in the treaty, which deals with technical matters like connecting international telephone calls because doing so could lead to curbs on free speech and replace the existing, bottom-up form of Internet oversight with a government-led model.
“We cannot support a treaty that is not supportive of the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance,’’ Kramer said. His disclosure came moments after the telecom union said that a final version of the text had been adopted.
A bloc of countries led by Russia and including China and the host nation, the United Arab Emirates, argued throughout the negotiations that the Internet should be within the scope of the talks because Internet traffic travels through telecom networks.
The goal of the talks, led by Mohamed Nasser al-Ghanim, director-general of the Telecommunication Regulation Authority of the United Arab Emirates, was to revise a document last updated in 1988, when the Internet was in its early stages of development.
The acrimonious end to the proceedings reflected the rising importance of telecommunications and the Internet, with communications, commerce, and even warfare increasingly taking place over digital networks. The East-West and North-South divisions harked back to the Cold War, even though that conflict did not stop the telecommunications union from reaching previous pacts.