UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday gave Iraq the green light to develop a civilian nuclear program, ending 19-year-old restrictions aimed at preventing the country from developing atomic weapons.
In two other resolutions, the 15-nation council also wound up the controversial oil-for-food program for Iraq and set June 30, 2011, to end all immunities protecting Baghdad from claims related to the period when former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was in power.
“The adoption of these important resolutions marks the beginning of the end of the sanctions regime and restriction on Iraq’s sovereignty, independence and recovery,” Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told the council.
“Our people will rejoice for having turned a chapter on the aggressive, belligerent and defiant behavior of the previous regime toward international law and legitimacy,” he said.
After its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq was hit with a series of U.N. measures that banned imports of chemicals and nuclear technology that could be used in its covert atomic, chemical and biological weapons programs. Those restrictions were in place for two decades.
Baghdad will keep paying 5 percent of its oil revenues as war reparations, most of it to Kuwait, despite Iraq’s calls for a renegotiation of those payments so it can use more of its oil money for needed development projects.
Iraq still owes Kuwait nearly $22 billion in reparations, Western diplomats said. Zebari told reporters that there are “hundreds of claims” against Iraq that have been made by governments and private individuals.
It was not immediately clear what the total value of those claims were.
In a statement read out by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, the council welcomed improvements in Iraq’s relations with its neighbor Kuwait and encouraged it to “quickly fulfill its remaining obligations under ... resolutions pertaining to the situation between Iraq and Kuwait.”
The council agreed to the statement unanimously.
‘COMMITMENT TO NON-PROLIFERATION’
Diplomats said this included Iraq’s recognition of the borders of Kuwait, a country that Saddam’s government had called the “19th province” of Iraq. There are also unresolved issues related to Kuwaiti archives and missing people.
Biden, who chaired the meeting in the U.S. capacity as Security Council president this month, said the moves were “in recognition of Iraq’s commitment to non-proliferation.”
The United States plans to withdraw its remaining troops from Iraq next year and wants to portray the country as returning to normalcy despite continuing violence.
“Of course, there are good political reasons for the U.S. to show progress in Iraq,” said one senior council diplomat from another country.
The only resolution that was not adopted unanimously was the one on oil-for-food. France abstained, which a diplomat told Reuters was because it felt the text lacked sufficient assurances that the Paris-based bank BNP Paribas will not take any financial hits over its involvement in the program.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud told the council that the resolution did not have “all the guarantees we consider necessary to wrapping up the program.” He did not elaborate.
The U.N. oil-for-food program, which ran from 1996 to 2003, was created to help Iraqis cope with U.N. sanctions after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The program allowed Baghdad to sell oil in order to buy humanitarian goods, but became the focus of fraud investigations after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
In February the council said it would lift civil nuclear curbs on Iraq after it ratified a number of international agreements, including the so-called Additional Protocol on intrusive U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.
The council lifted the restrictions even though Iraq’s parliament has yet to ratify the IAEA protocol.
The resolution urges Iraq to ratify that protocol “as soon as possible” and calls for a 12-month review of progress. Iraq has promised to implement the protocol before ratification.
The IAEA protocol’s intrusive inspection regime, aimed at smoking out secret nuclear activities, stemmed from the IAEA’s discovery in 1991 of Iraq’s clandestine atomic bomb program.
Before they invaded Iraq in March 2003, the United States and Britain had accused Baghdad of reviving its covert nuclear, chemical and biological arms programs. The allegations turned out to be incorrect.
Editing by Xavier Briand