Iraq US nuclear
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, left, and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden embrace in the United Nations Security Council before a meeting, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010. Photo by AP
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The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday gave Iraq a green light to develop a civilian nuclear program, ending 19-year-old restrictions aimed at preventing the country from developing atomic weapons.

The 15-nation council also approved two other resolutions, one ending the controversial oil-for-food program and another setting June 30, 2011, to end all immunities protecting Baghdad from claims related to the period in which former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was in power.

"I think this is a victory for the Iraqi people and represents a step towards building the country and leaving behind the heavy legacy of the past," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in Baghdad.

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 remained 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 e22 billion in reparations, Western diplomats said.

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, an
agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, on intrusive inspections.

The council on Wednesday lifted the restrictions even though Iraq's parliament has yet to ratify the IAEA protocol.

The United States holds the rotating Security Council presidency this month and Vice President Joe Biden presided over the meeting.

The resolution urges Iraq to ratify that protocol and another treaty banning nuclear tests "as soon as possible." It also welcomed Baghdad's pledge to implement the Additional
Protocol as if it was already in force.

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 atom bomb program.

The resolution on weapons of mass destruction includes a clause requiring a review in 12 months of "progress made by Iraq on its commitment to ratify the Additional Protocol ... and meet its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention."