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Friday, 20 September, 2002, 21:39 GMT 22:39 UK
Saddam 'ready to co-operate'
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein realises he is facing his last chance to avoid US military action and will comply with United Nations weapons inspections, says Qatari Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al-Thani.

In an interview for the BBC's Hardtalk programme, Sheik Hamad told interviewer Tim Sebastian that on his visit to Baghdad on 26 August, Saddam Hussein said he feared there would be military action against Iraq no matter what he did.

However, the Iraqi president accepted the message Sheik Hamad brought from last month's Islamic Summit that Iraq must comply with UN resolutions on weapons inspections.

''I can believe him on this,'' said Sheik Hamad. ''I think he realises that this is the last chance - if he is not sincere, he knows there will be military action.''

US personnel

When asked about Qatar's possible role in a US military campaign, Sheik Hamad insisted that his country did not support such action, but admitted that US Central Command personnel in Qatar might well orchestrate strikes ''if we give them permission''.

Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein: Feared military action ''no matter what he did''

The foreign minister stressed that the presence of the American personnel had been agreed three years ago, and that Qatar had still not been asked by the US to provide bases for launching strikes on Iraq.

''We want a peaceful solution - we are sincerely against war - but if we are asked, we will look at it very carefully.''

The minister said Qatar's relationship with the US was its ''first consideration''.

However, he also insisted that Saddam Hussein had to be given time to meet UN resolutions.

UN deadline

US President George W Bush is pressing for an urgent UN resolution setting a deadline for Saddam Hussein to meet UN demands or face military force.


Time is important, but it's important not to let the people of Iraq suffer more

Sheik Hamad

When pressed on the timetable for events, Sheik Hamad believed a UN Security Council resolution could take ''weeks or more than a month'', with a deadline for action ''not before the beginning of the New Year''.

He added: ''Time is important, but it's important not to let the people of Iraq suffer more.''

He said he had also recently met all the top US leaders and believed them sincere in waiting for a Security Council resolution.

However, he said he believed if the US was not happy with the result, it would continue with action against Iraq.



HARDtalk with Tim Sebastian is broadcast Mon - Friday on BBC World and BBC News 24
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