UNITED NATIONS - The Security Council gave a unanimous vote of confidence Wednesday to the significant strides Iraq has taken by lifting 19-year-old sanctions on weapons and civilian nuclear power.
The council also decided to return control of Iraq's oil and natural gas revenue to the government next summer and to settle all remaining claims over the controversial oil-for-food program, which helped ordinary Iraqis cope with sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's army invaded Kuwait two decades ago.
Although some sanctions will remain in place until Iraq and Kuwait settle remaining issues from that war, Wednesday's vote was a major step to restore Iraq's international standing a year before the United States is to pull its last troops out of the country. It came a day after a power-sharing agreement ended a lengthy deadlock on forming an Iraqi government.
Vice President Biden, who presided over the meeting, told the council the move marked "an important milestone for the government of Iraq and people of Iraq in their ongoing effort to leave behind their troubled past and embrace a much brighter future."
"The three resolutions we've passed bring an end to the burdensome remnants of the dark era of Saddam Hussein," he said. Biden's presence was a sign of the importance the Obama administration gave to the largely symbolic vote. The United States holds the Security Council presidency this month.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said adoption of the resolutions "marks the beginning of the end of the sanctions regime and restrictions on Iraq's sovereignty, independence, and recovery."
The council expressed confidence in Iraq's commitments to nonproliferation by lifting sanctions against acquiring weapons of mass destruction or pursuing a civilian nuclear-power program. Iraq's constitution bars the country from acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and Baghdad is a party to most of the main nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile treaties.
The council had said in February that it would lift the ban on Iraq's use of civilian nuclear power after it ratified several additional international treaties. On Wednesday, the council urged Iraq to ratify the protocol and the nuclear test-ban treaty "as soon as possible" and issue a progress report in 12 months.
A second resolution, adopted unanimously, ends the international management of the Development Fund for Iraq on June 30, 2011. The fund was set up after Hussein's regime was toppled in 2003 to try to ensure that proceeds of the country's gas and oil sales were used to help its people and restore its economy.