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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 23:26 GMT
Saddam denies links to terrorists
Saddam Hussein
Saddam rebuffed accusations from the US and Britain
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has denied allegations by the US and UK that Iraq has links with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

"If we had a relationship with al-Qaeda, and we believed in that relationship, we wouldn't be ashamed to admit it," the Iraqi leader said in a rare interview, conducted by the former British MP Tony Benn and broadcast on Channel Four television.

These weapons [of mass destruction] do not come in small pills that you can hide in your pocket

Saddam Hussein

There has been considerable scepticism worldwide about alleged links between Saddam Hussein - a secular dictator - and Osama Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist.

The transmission of the interview comes a day before US Secretary of State Colin Powell is to present to the UN what he says is evidence that Iraq is developing banned weapons of mass destruction - another allegation denied by Saddam Hussein.

In a first response from the US administration, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the Iraqi leader told lies most of the time.

"This is a case of the local liar coming up again and people repeating what he said and forgetting to say that he never, almost never, rarely tells the truth," the defence secretary said.

In other developments:

  • Kuwait says it will establish a closed military zone in its northern area bordering Iraq from 15 February
  • UN arms inspectors in Iraq say they have found another empty chemical warhead
In the interview, Saddam Hussein said it would be impossible to hide away the chemical, biological or nuclear weapons that the US insists he possesses, and which the UN inspectors have so far failed to find.

UN inspectors in Baghdad
Saddam said finding banned weapons should be easy
"These weapons do not come in small pills that you can hide in your pocket," he said.

"These are weapons of mass destruction, and it is easy to work out if Iraq has them or not."

The US and Britain claim Iraq is hiding prohibited weapons or related documents from United Nations arms inspectors, who returned to Iraq last November

On Tuesday, the chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix urged Baghdad to improve its co-operation, warning that it was "five minutes to midnight".

America has warned it will forcibly disarm Iraq if Saddam Hussein does not give up the weapons it says he owns.

The Iraqi leader said he did not want a confrontation, and accused America of looking for a pretext to launch an attack.

"Iraq has no interest in war," he said.

"No Iraqi official or ordinary citizens has expressed a wish to go to war."

Bush 'unwise'

Saddam Hussein said the US was seeking to control Iraq's oil fields and was being influenced by Israel.

Iraqis have been fulfilling their obligations

Saddam Hussein

"The consecutive American administrations were led to a path of hostility against the people of this region, including our own nation," he said.

"The most important factor in controlling oil is to destroy Iraq."

Alluding to US President George W Bush, Saddam Hussein said anyone who thought they could act without regard for the rest of the world was "lacking in wisdom" .

He said "Iraqis have been fulfilling their obligations" under the UN resolution on disarmament, contrary to US and British claims.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Bamford
"The President reiterated that Iraqis had no weapons of mass destruction"

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See also:

04 Feb 03 | Middle East
03 Feb 03 | Politics
03 Feb 03 | Middle East
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