UN set to lift some Iraqi sanctions
UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council is set to take new steps to restore Iraq to the international standing it held before Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, including lifting sanctions that prohibited the country from pursuing a civilian nuclear program.
The United States holds the council presidency this month and U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden will preside at Wednesday's council meeting where American officials say action is also expected to return control of Iraq's oil and natural gas revenue to the government and terminate all remaining activities of the oil-for-food program which helped ordinary Iraqis cope with sanctions.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said in a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon circulated Tuesday that the goal of the session is "to recognize and reinforce Iraq's recent progress and to explore ways in which the United Nations can continue to support the Iraqi government and people."
She said the council recognizes that Iraqi leaders have made important strides toward fulfilling the country's U.N.-mandated obligations and have nearly completed the formation of a new government.
The council also has acknowledged "the substantial changes Iraq has undergone" since it adopted the first of more than 70 resolutions under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter -- which is militarily enforceable -- after the August 1990 invasion, Rice said.
Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari is scheduled to attend the meeting.
In May 2003, weeks after the U.S. invaded Iraq, the council lifted economic sanctions against Iraq, opening the country to international trade and investment and allowing oil exports to resume. In June 2004, it lifted an embargo on the sale of conventional weapons to the government.
But there are still limits on some activities related to the possible production of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometers (90 miles) are still banned. Militias and other non-state actors are also banned from importing conventional weapons.
Iraq also still has outstanding issues with Kuwait, including demarcation of the border, accounting for 600 missing Kuwaitis, returning missing property and archives, and the $24 billion debt Baghdad owes Kuwait as reparations for the invasion.
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of Wednesday's meeting, said the council will allow Iraq to pursue a peaceful civilian nuclear program, but the international community will want to ensure that the government can safeguard nuclear material.
Iraq is a party to the main nuclear, chemical, biological and missile treaties and is applying the additional protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty -- which allows unannounced inspections -- even though parliament hasn't ratified it because of the lengthy dispute over forming a new government, the official said.
Rice said the Security Council is also expected to take action to end the international management of the Development Fund for Iraq which was set up in 2003 to try to ensure that the proceeds of the country's gas and oil sales were used to help its people and restore its economy.
The official said the resolution will terminate the fund's international management on June 30, 2011 but ensure that 5 percent of oil and gas revenue still goes into a compensation fund, used mainly to pay Kuwaiti claims from the war.
Council members have still not finalized a resolution that will terminate all remaining activities of the oil-for-food program and return about $650 million in its accounts to the Iraqi government but agreement could be reached before Wednesday's meeting, the official said.
Under the oil-for-food program, which ran from 1996 to 2003, Iraq was allowed to sell oil provided most of the money went to buy humanitarian goods. It was aimed at easing Iraqi suffering under U.N. sanctions and was a lifeline for 90 percent of the country's population.
But an 18-month U.N.-sanctioned investigation led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker found massive corruption in the program. Its final report in October 2005 accused more than 2,200 companies from some 40 countries of colluding with Saddam's regime to bilk the humanitarian program of $1.8 billion.
The U.S. official said there are about 32 contracts for which there is no documentation and no evidence of delivery of goods and these would be terminated if the resolution is adopted.
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