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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

WTO Admits Iraq as an Observer

GENEVA -- World Trade Organization countries Wednesday admitted Iraq's interim administration as an observer, the first step toward full membership of the Geneva-based body.

The Iraqi request, filed last month with warm backing from Washington, was accepted without a dissenting voice at a meeting of the 146-nation trade body's ruling General Council.

"This is an important step for Iraq toward integration into the global economy," Iraqi trade official Ahmad al-Mukhtar told the council.

"After decades of isolation, Iraq is beginning to rejoin the international community, and your decision sends a positive signal to the people of Iraq that they are welcome back."

The decision puts the U.S.-installed administration in Baghdad on a level with some 30 other nations who want to join or are in the process of doing so.

Although the bid went through unopposed, no Arab state stood up to express public support, and several WTO members drew a negative comparison with Washington's refusal to allow Iraq's neighbor Iran to start negotiating entry into the trade body.

The issue of Iran, which U.S. leaders accuse of supporting international terrorism, has been on the council's formal agenda since early 2001. Tehran first said in 1996 it wanted to join.

On Wednesday, the United States declared -- as it has every time that the proposal has come up -- that it needed more time to consider, so blocking further discussion.

The European Union was among a number of members, including India, Malaysia and Indonesia, who said they hoped Washington would lift its veto at the next council meeting, set for May.

"Several delegations took the floor to say that they hoped that this [Iran's request] could be approved at the next meeting," said WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell. "They said that political considerations should not be attached," he added.

The decisions on Iraq and Iran came as no surprise. Developing countries, which strongly support Iran's case, had indicated they would not demand one as the price of the other.

Washington, which has extensive sanctions in force against Iran, had said it was too early to consider a change in policy despite signs of a thaw in Tehran's relations with the West.

President George W. Bush last month relaxed some sanctions to speed up humanitarian assistance to victims of an earthquake that killed 40,000 people in Iran in December.

Under WTO rules, Iraq, which has the largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia, has five years in which to begin entry negotiations, which could last for several more years on recent precedents.