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U.N. urges Iraq to ratify atomic inspection protocol

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Security Council on Friday urged Iraq to ratify an agreement requiring it to accept intrusive inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, which dismantled a covert Iraqi atom bomb program in the 1990s.

The Security Council said it could consider lifting trade restrictions it imposed on Iraq’s civilian nuclear program and other industries after its 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait if Iraq ratified the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) so-called Additional Protocol, among other steps.

Iraq has already signed the IAEA Additional Protocol, submitted it to parliament for ratification and agreed to implement it provisionally until it enters into force. It has also pledged to never again develop nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

If the trade restrictions are lifted, diplomats said Iraq would once again be able to buy nuclear materials and technology, as well as dual-use chemicals, such as certain pesticides, which it needs for agriculture.

The restrictions were put in place to stop former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programs.

The declaration, which was agreed to by all 15 Security Council members, also asked the Vienna-based IAEA to report to the council on Iraq’s implementation of the protocol.

Baghdad, a major oil exporter, has said it wants a civilian nuclear program to generate electricity.

Its neighbor Iran is under U.N. sanctions for defying Security Council demands that it halt uranium enrichment, a nuclear fuel program that Tehran began secretly during its 1980-1988 war with Iraq. Iran declared the program to the IAEA two decades later, a year after exiles revealed its existence.

The more intrusive inspection regime aimed at smoking out clandestine nuclear activities stemmed from the IAEA’s discovery in 1991 of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear arms program.

That regime is known as the Additional Protocol and IAEA officials have long urged nations around the world to sign, ratify and implement it.

The United States only ratified the protocol last year, 11 year after signing it.

Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the United States and Britain alleged that Iraq had revived its weapons of mass destruction programs. But U.N. inspectors, who returned to Iraq in late 2002 and remained for several months, found no evidence to support the charges.

The U.S.-British allegations, which were based on faulty intelligence, are now known to have been false.

U.N. weapons inspectors had spent seven years uncovering and dismantling Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs after a U.S.-led military campaign drove Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait in 1991.

Also in its declaration, the Security Council welcomed Iraq’s accession to a global pact against the use of chemical weapons, arms that Hussein used against Iran during their bloody war and against Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq.

It also praised Baghdad’s plans to sign a treaty against the proliferation of ballistic missiles and its adoption of a pact banning nuclear tests.

The statement did not mention Iraq’s long-standing request that the council annul other decisions from the early 1990s, including those requiring that Baghdad pay war reparation payments to Kuwait.

Editing by Vicki Allen and Todd Eastham