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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 November, 2003, 15:30 GMT
US 'rejected Iraqi concessions'
US Pentagon adviser Richard Perle
Richard Perle "indicated the guys higher up were not going with it"
A Lebanese-American businessman has said he conveyed a last-ditch Iraqi plea to the US administration to avoid war but the approach was rebuffed.

The offer from Saddam Hussein's regime was turned down about a week before US-led forces invaded Iraq in March, Imad Hage told the BBC.

He said the Iraqi intelligence chief told him in Beirut that Baghdad did not want a confrontation.

The Iraqis also insisted they had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Iraqi 'concessions'

Mr Hage told the BBC's Newshour programme that the deputy head of Iraqi intelligence, Dr Hassan Obeidi, had visited his Beirut office and "at the end of the day he had made it clear that the Iraqis wanted to cut a deal to avert a war".

What they hoped that I could convey was that they didn't wish for confrontation - they didn't understand why they were targeted
Imad Hage
He said the Iraqi message came from the head of Iraq's internal security agencies, Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, who is still wanted by the US forces in Iraq.

Mr Hage said he later discussed the Iraqi offer with Richard Perle, former chairman of the US Defense Policy Advisory Board, who is an influential adviser to top Pentagon officials.

"The response of him and others was: It was OK for them, they would be willing to meet the Iraqis to discuss the concessions, provided they got approval from high-ranking officials in the administration.

"I don't know of they vetoed it or turned it down, but it was no-go," Mr Hage said, adding that the US rejection came a week or 10 days before war broke out.

The businessman said that before the meeting in Beirut he had had no other dealings with Saddam Hussein's regime.

According to Mr Hage, the Iraqis offered a package of "concessions" to the US administration:

  • Allowing US inspectors to visit Iraq to inspect for WMD;

  • Holding free and fair elections within a specified period of time;

  • Concessions to the US in the oil sector and "business dealings";

  • Concessions to help the Arab-Israeli peace process;

  • Handing over Abdul Rahman Yasin, a top al-Qaeda suspect wanted in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

    ABC News reported that Mr Perle had confirmed meeting Mr Hage in London in early March.

    Mr Perle was quoted as saying he was prepared to discuss the offer with Iraqi officials, but the CIA told him not to do so.

    Commenting on the report, a White House spokeswoman said Saddam Hussein had had ample opportunity to avoid war, and it was his failure to comply with UN resolutions that "forced the coalition to act".

    According to Middle East analyst Daniel Neep of the Royal United Services Institute, Saddam "was not willing to make concessions in public".

    "On the surface of it, it's a credible offer... In terms of how wide-ranging the concessions on offer might have been, there is a great deal that is new," he told Newshour.

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