UN Moves Closer To Lifting Iraq Sanctions

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Iraq picked up momentum Friday in its bid to remove the U.N. trade sanctions that have been hampering its economy for nearly two decades in punishment for Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

With Iraq preparing for March 7 elections and U.S. combat troops getting ready to withdraw in August, the Obama administration has been pushing for the U.N. Security Council to provide a boost to Iraq's economy by lifting sanctions affecting billions of dollars in annual trade.

After a brief meeting Friday, the Security Council pledged in its unanimously adopted U.S.-drafted statement "its readiness, once the necessary steps have been taken, to review, with a view towards lifting, the restrictions" on trade in chemicals and other items that it first imposed in 1991, under two sanctions resolutions.

Those include chemicals such as pesticides that are used in Iraq's agriculture but also could be used in weapons-making.

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The 15-nation council's statement read aloud by French Ambassador Gerard Araud, who holds the rotating presidency of the U.N.'s most powerful body this month, indicated that such a review would come only after Iraq's safeguards against acquiring weapons of mass destruction are demonstrated to be sufficient.

Iraq also must demonstrate that it is in compliance with treaties against developing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

The action came in response to a request by Iraq's Foreign Minister Hosyar Zebari last month, in which he assured the council that Iraq opposes the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons and ballistic missiles and "is committed to taking additional steps to comply with nonproliferation and disarmament standards."

Zebari called the trade sanctions "among the constraints that continue to prevent Iraq from regaining its status as a responsible and active member of the international community and, at the same time, deprive it of the benefits of technological progress and scientific research."

Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Hamid Al-Bayati said lifting the sanctions would help ease some $24 billion in annual trade in agriculture and other industry.

The council also requested an assessment from the International Atomic Energy Agency about "the quality of Iraq's safeguards-related cooperation" with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, including how well the country is complying with treaties against nuclear, biological and chemical weapons-making.

Such a report from the IAEA could prompt a council resolution to lift the sanctions, which were intended to prevent Iraq from acquiring so-called weapons of mass destruction. None were found after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.

If the council were to do so, that would not affect other U.N. sanctions requiring Iraq to compensate Kuwait and others for billions of dollars in damages from the 1990 invasion.

Saddam was executed in 2006. The United States now hopes that a credible election can help strengthen the war-battered nation and improve conditions for its combat forces to go home by the end of August and the rest by the end of next year.
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