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Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 19:27 GMT 20:27 UK
Iraq defiant over US threats
Crowd in Baghdad carry banners depicting Saddam Hussein
The US is committed to "regime change" in Iraq
Iraq's foreign minister says his country will not give in to pressure from the United States and Britain over arms inspections.

Speaking in an interview with the BBC in Baghdad, Naji Sabri reiterated that Iraq would only readmit United Nations arms inspectors if the economic sanctions against Baghdad were also lifted.

Naji Sabri
Sabri: "Iraq will defend itself"

He also warned that Iraq would defend itself if attacked, and ridiculed US and British claims that the country was developing weapons of mass destruction or threatening its neighbours.

"Where is this threat? This is nonsense," Mr Sabri said.

Mr Sabri, the main negotiator with the UN on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, made it clear that his government believed that the readmission of UN inspectors was not just a matter of saying yes.

He laid out a number of conditions that Iraq wanted addressed at the same time - notably the lifting of economic sanctions and the guarantee of Iraq's security and sovereignty.

But when it was suggested that this would be unacceptable to the UN, the US and Britain, he said that the Iraqi leadership "would not give in to diktats".

Pretext for war

He said that allowing the weapons inspectors back without any conditions would return Iraq to what he called "the political minefield of the last decade when UN inspectors were in the country".

He said previous weapons inspectors had provided information and intelligence to the US and Britain, and that without guarantees that this would not happen again there was bound to be a confrontation that would be used as a pretext for war.

And while Mr Sabri said that if attacked, Iraq would defend itself, he acknowledged that it was unlikely that Baghdad would be able to defeat the US and Britain.

He said the country would suffer enormous destruction, but that the Iraqi leadership would never be overthrown.

'Regime change'

His comments come after Iraqi overtures to discuss arms inspections were dismissed by Washington as delaying tactics.

UN arms inspectors, imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War, pulled out before a US-led air strike in 1998. They were not allowed back in.

A woman walks by a Saddam Hussein poster in Baghdad
Saddam Hussein will address the nation on Thursday

US President George W Bush has repeatedly said he is committed to a "regime change" in Iraq, but on Wednesday he promised to consult widely before action was taken.

"I promise you that I will be patient, and deliberate, that we will continue to consult with Congress, and of course we'll consult with our friends and allies," he said in Mississippi

But his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, has warned that even readmitting weapons inspectors might not be enough.

Opposition

And if Mr Bush does consult US allies, he knows that he will not like much of what he hears.

Long-time US ally Saudi Arabia reiterated on Wednesday that it would not allow the US to attack Iraq from bases on its soil.

And the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, warned that an attack on Iraq would harm US anti-terrorism efforts.

"It would be less easily understood as an act of defence and could destroy the international alliance against terror," Mr Schroeder, who is heading into an election campaign, told the Bild newspaper.

The Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, is expected to address the nation on Thursday morning in a televised address.

The Iraqi News Agency said he would give a "comprehensive national speech".

And although it will mark the anniversary of the end of the 1980-88 war with Iran, the speech may be used to steel Iraqis for a military confrontation.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rageh Omaar
"The Iraqi leadership has made it clear it is in no mood to change its position"
Naji Sabri, Iraqi Foreign Minister
"Tony Blair has no evidence, it is a lie"
Prof. Raymond Tanter, Inst. for Near East Policy
"The US would act with Iraqi opposition forces"

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07 Aug 02 | Middle East
07 Aug 02 | Middle East
07 Aug 02 | Politics
05 Aug 02 | Middle East
02 Aug 02 | Middle East
02 Aug 02 | Middle East
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