WASHINGTON - The United States has announced new policies stipulating that the armed drones can only be exported through government programmes and that the receiving country needs to agree to certain conditions about what the weapon will be used for.

Under the new rules, exports of armed military drones must be made through government entities and the nations receiving the devices must agree to ‘end-use assurances,’ the State Department said on Tuesday. ‘The new US UAS [Unmanned Aerial Systems] export policy provides a disciplined and rigorous framework within which the United States will exercise restraint in sales and transfers and advance its national security and foreign policy interests,’ it said.

The new policy lays out principles that foreign governments must embrace to receive the aircraft, the Post added. ‘The technology is here to stay,’ a senior State Department official said. ‘It’s to our benefit to have certain allies and partners equipped appropriately.’ The new policy is a delicate balancing act for the Obama White House, which has sought to elevate human rights in its foreign policy but also has employed drone strikes like no other government in history. The strikes, conducted by the Pentagon and the CIA, have become a central part of US efforts against militants in places such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Globally, a few countries - including the United States, Israel and China - already operate their own armed drones.

To date, US officials state, the United States has sold its armed drones only to Britain. Unarmed military drones, used primarily for intelligence, have been sold to a larger number of countries, including NATO allies such as France and Italy. ‘If you fall back on what our objective is, it’s really more than anything to provide an extra level of scrutiny with respect to these transfers,’ the official said. Foreign governments also will have to accept potential US monitoring of how the drones are used.

The new policy covers both armed and unarmed drones and builds on the Obama administration’s update last year to rules on conventional weapons transfers, which emphasise human rights protections in decisions about arms sales. The move may nevertheless heighten concerns among rights groups, which maintain that the remote strikes have killed civilians without proper US accountability.

The policy also may face some opposition in Congress, the dispatch said. Like all major weapons sales, drone exports above a certain dollar value would be subject to Congressional notification, giving lawmakers an opportunity to hold up some if they have concerns.