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UN lifts Iraq nuclear weapons sanctions

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday lifted sanctions that barred Iraq from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and pursuing a civilian nuclear program, in a symbolic step to restore the country to the international standing it held before Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Iraq's constitution bars the country from acquiring weapons of mass destruction and the country is a party to the main nuclear, chemical, biological and missile treaties.

The council also voted to return control of Iraq's oil and natural gas revenue to the government on June 30, 2011 and to terminate all remaining activities of the controversial oil-for-food program which ran from 1996-2003 and helped ordinary Iraqis cope with sanctions.

The U.S. holds the Security Council presidency this month and pressed for adoption of the three resolution at a high-level meeting presided over by Vice President Joe Biden, who called the actions Wednesday an important milestone for Iraq.

"The three resolutions we've passed bring an end to the burdensome remnants of the dark era of Saddam Hussein," Biden said. "In recent years, the Iraqi people have emerged from the depths of sectarian violence and they have flatly rejected the grim future offered by extremists, and they have earned themselves a chance for much better days ahead."

The U.N.'s most powerful body voted a day after a deadlock on forming a new Iraqi government ended and a year before the United States is scheduled to pull its last troops out of the country.

The council said it recognized "the positive developments in Iraq and that the situation now ... is significantly different from that which existed" after Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. It also recognized "the importance of Iraq achieving international standing equal to that which it held" prior to the invasion.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the meeting of the Security Council was "a historic session" since it ends an international embargo imposed on Iraq because of the wars started by Saddam's regime.

Before the vote, Zebari called the lifting of the sanctions "the biggest political accomplishment for Iraq."

"I can say that the session today is the beginning of the end," Zebari told the AP in a phone interview ahead of Wednesday's meeting. "Today Iraq will be liberated from all sanctions caused by wars and misdeeds of the former regime."

The council had said in February that it would lift the ban on Iraq's use of civilian nuclear power after it ratified several international treaties and the Additional Protocol, which allows the International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out unannounced inspections.

Iraq has not done so, mainly due to its failure to form a new government, and the council urged Iraq to ratify the protocol as well as the nuclear test ban treaty "as soon as possible," and asked for a progress report in 12 months.

The resolution approved Wednesday terminates provisions of two resolutions adopted in 1991 under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter — which is militarily enforceable — banning Iraq from using, developing, constructing or acquiring nuclear, chemical and biological weapons or material to make them and ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers.