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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 10:25 GMT
Saddam: I will die in Iraq
Dan Rather (left) interviews Saddam Hussein (right)
The Iraqi leader also denied links to al-Qaeda (AP)
President Saddam Hussein has dismissed suggestions that he should go into exile to avoid a war against Iraq.

Speaking in an interview with veteran US television journalist Dan Rather, the Iraqi president said: "We will die here. We will die in this country and we will maintain our honour".

His exile has been proposed as a possible solution to the current crisis, but correspondents say it has never been seen as a realistic option.

The Iraqi leader's comments were released as UK Prime Minister Tony Blair prepared for a heated debate in Parliament on the Iraq crisis.

IRAQI LEADER'S INTERVIEW
I believe that whoever... offers Saddam asylum in his own country is in fact a person without morals
Saddam Hussein

Dozens of MPs from his own Labour Party are expected to voice their opposition to his tough line on Iraq and his staunch support for US President George W Bush.

In an address to Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Blair said he was giving Saddam Hussein "one further final chance to disarm voluntarily" by delaying a vote on a new United Nations resolution for two weeks.

Tough talking is also expected later on Wednesday in the French Assembly, where politicians are divided over whether France should use its UN veto.

Some members of President Jacques Chirac's own party fear his stance against military action could cause an irreparable split with Washington.

Oil fields

In his interview with CBS television, the Iraqi leader challenged US President George W Bush to a TV debate on war - an offer already rejected out of hand by the White House.

Saddam also said that Iraq:

  • Had no links to al-Qaeda

  • Would not set fire to oil fields or destroy dams if there was an invasion

  • Had no missiles which exceeded UN permitted limits

Chief UN inspector Hans Blix has demanded the destruction of a stock of al-Samoud II missiles - which fly beyond the 150 kilometres (93 miles) permitted - by Saturday.

The missile question has been seen as a major test of Iraq's willingness to comply with UN orders.

Mr Blix himself has said there can be no negotiations with Iraq over this.

'Positive move'

However, Mr Blix has welcomed Iraq's move to reveal new information about its arms programme by releasing handwritten documents about the destruction of weapons of mass destruction.

OUTSTANDING QUESTIONS
8,500 missing litres of anthrax growth medium
6,500 missing chemical bombs
3,000 missing tons of chemical precursors
550 missing artillery shells filled with mustard gas
360 missing tons of chemical warfare agents, including 1.5 tons of VX nerve agent
50 missing long-range missile warheads

Mr Blix said the documents contained "some elements which are positive which need to be explored further".

The BBC's Greg Barrow at the United Nations says it would be an exaggeration to say that the emergence of the documents marks a diplomatic breakthrough.

The view from London and Washington is likely to be that this is more evidence of Iraq's strategy to release information only when it is under pressure.

But, he says, those Security Council members that want to see UN inspections continue will argue that this is more evidence of how the inspection process can actually work.

In other developments:

  • German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow - both countries oppose war

  • Officials say that only about a half of the UK jets due in the Gulf have arrived because Muslim countries have refused overflights

  • US Secretary of State Colin Powell phones Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul to stress the urgency of deploying US troops there - the Turkish parliament has still to vote on the issue

  • US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warns that Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capabilities are more lethal and dangerous than in the last Gulf war

  • Iraqi opposition groups hold a big meeting in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq - President Bush's special envoy attends





LINKS TO MORE MIDDLE EAST STORIES


 

WATCH AND LISTEN
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein speaks to US TV
"Iraqi people are not the enemy of the American people"


The BBC's Matt Frei
"Saddam spoke to Dan Rather for over three hours"



SEE ALSO:
Blair seeks to quell Iraq revolt
26 Feb 03 |  Politics


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