UNITED NATIONS U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday recommended bringing Iraq one step closer to ending all U.N. sanctions imposed on Baghdad more than two decades ago after former leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait In 1990.
Despite the toppling of Saddam in 2003 after a U.S.-led invasion, the United Nations has not fully lifted the sanctions. U.S.-led troops drove Iraq out of Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.
If the U.N. Security Council accepts Ban's recommendation, it will be a significant political boost for Baghdad as it struggles to restore its international standing a decade after Saddam's ouster.
Iraq is still subject to a U.N. arms embargo and asset freeze on individuals and entities linked to Saddam.
Ban has recommended that the remaining humanitarian issue between Iraq and Kuwait - related to missing Kuwaiti people and property - be dealt with under Chapter 6 of the U.N. Charter, which urges countries to peacefully resolve any conflicts.
The issue is currently dealt with under Chapter 7 of the charter, which allows the U.N. Security Council to authorize actions ranging from sanctions to military intervention.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has said that if the Security Council agrees to Ban's recommendation, Iraq's only outstanding Chapter 7 obligation would be to pay the remaining $11 billion it owes Kuwait in compensation, the Kuwait News Agency reported. Zebari said Iraq could clear this debt by 2015 if payments continued at the current pace, according to the agency.
Kuwait for years had opposed removal of Iraq from Chapter 7 due to unresolved disputes over the border, missing persons, property and other issues. But those disputes have largely been resolved.
"The governments of Iraq and Kuwait have demonstrated statesmanship and respect for each other's national interests, in reaching a mutually acceptable and beneficial arrangement," Ban said in the report to the Security Council.
"Should the Security Council agree with my recommendation, Iraq will exit Chapter 7 with regard to this file and will be one step closer to restoring its international standing ... an objective long sought by the leadership of the country following the removal of the regime of Saddam Hussein," he said.
Ban said the U.N. political mission in Iraq should be given responsibility for facilitating the search for missing Kuwaitis and third-country nationals, or their remains, and property, including the country's national archives.
The Security Council is due to discuss the issue later this month.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)