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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 19:55 GMT
Full text of Benn interview with Saddam
Former Labour Cabinet Minister Tony Benn interviewed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. The full text of that interview which was broadcast on the UK's Channel 4 news programme is as follows:
Benn: I come for one reason only - to see whether in a talk we can explore, or you can help me to see, what the paths to peace may be.
My only reason, I remember the war because I lost a brother. I never want to see another war.
There are millions of people all over the world who don't want a war, and by agreeing to this interview, which is very historic for all of us, I hope you will be able to help me be able to say something to the world that is significant and positive.
Saddam: Welcome to Baghdad. You are conscious of the role that Iraqis have set out for themselves, inspired by their own culture, their civilisation and their role in human history.
This role requires peace in order to prosper and progress. Having said that, the Iraqis are committed to their rights as much as they are committed to the rights of others.
Benn: Mr President, may I ask you some questions. The first is, does Iraq have any weapons of mass destruction?
Saddam: Most Iraqi officials have been in power for over 34 years and have experience of dealing with the outside world.
Every fair-minded person knows that when Iraqi officials say something, they are trustworthy.
A few minutes ago when you asked me if I wanted to look at the questions beforehand I told you I didn't feel the need so that we don't waste time, and I gave you the freedom to ask me any question directly so that my reply would be direct.
This is an opportunity to reach the British people and the forces of peace in the world.
There is only one truth and therefore I tell you as I have said on many occasions before that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever.
We challenge anyone who claims that we have to bring forward any evidence and present it to public opinion.
Benn: I have another which has been raised: Do you have links with al-Qaeda?
Saddam: If we had a relationship with al-Qaeda and we believed in that relationship we wouldn't be ashamed to admit it. Therefore I would like to tell you directly and also through you to anyone who is interested to know that we have no relationship with al-Qaeda.
Benn: In relation to the inspectors, there appears to be difficulties with inspectors, and I wonder whether there's anything you can tell me about these difficulties and whether you believe they will be cleared up before Mr Hans Blix and Mr ElBaradei come back to Baghdad?
Saddam: You are aware that every major event must encounter some difficulty.
On the subject of the inspectors and the resolutions that deal with Iraq you must have been following it and you must have a view and a vision as to whether these resolutions have any basis in international law.
Nevertheless the Security Council produced them. These resolutions - implemented or not - or the motivation behind these resolutions could lead the current situation to the path of peace or war. Therefore it's a critical situation.
Let us also remember the unjust suffering of the Iraqi people. For the last 13 years since the blockade was imposed, you must be aware of the amount of harm that it has caused the Iraqi people, particularly the children and the elderly, as a result of the shortage of food and medicine and other aspects of their life.
Therefore we are facing a critical situation.
On that basis, it is not surprising that there might be complaints relating to the small details of the inspection which may be essential issues as far as we are concerned and the way we see the whole thing. It is possible that those Iraqis who are involved with the inspection might complain about the conduct of the inspectors and they complain indeed.
It is also possible that some inspectors either for reasons of practical and detailed procedure, or for some other motives, may complain about the Iraqi conduct.
'No interest in war'
Every fair-minded person knows that as far as resolution 1441 is concerned, the Iraqis have been fulfilling their obligations under the resolution.
When Iraq objects to the conduct of those implementing the Security Council resolutions, that doesn't mean that Iraq wishes to push things to confrontation.
Iraq has no interest in war. No Iraqi official or ordinary citizen has expressed a wish to go to war.
The question should be directed at the other side. Are they looking for a pretext so they could justify war against Iraq?
If the purpose was to make sure that Iraq is free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons then they can do that. These weapons do not come in small pills that you can hide in your pocket.
These are weapons of mass destruction and it is easy to work out if Iraq has them or not. We have said many times before and we say it again today that Iraq is free of such weapons.
So when Iraq objects to the conduct of the inspection teams or others, that doesn't mean that Iraq is interested in putting obstacles before them which could hinder the efforts to get to the truth.
It is in our interest to facilitate their mission to find the truth.
The question is does the other side want to get to the same conclusion or are they looking for a pretext for aggression? If those concerned prefer aggression then it's within their reach.
The super powers can create a pretext any day to claim that Iraq is not implementing resolution 1441.
Iraq and the UN
They have claimed before that Iraq did not implement the previous resolutions.
However, after many years it became clear that Iraq had complied with these resolutions. Otherwise, why are they focusing now on the latest resolution and not the previous ones?
Benn: May I broaden the question out, Mr President, to the relations between Iraq and the UN, and the prospects for peace more broadly, and I wonder whether with all its weaknesses and all the difficulties, whether you see a way in which the UN can reach that objective for the benefit of humanity?
Saddam: The point you raised can be found in the United Nations charter. As you know Iraq is one of the founders and first signatories of the charter.
If we look at the representatives of two super powers - America and Britain - and look at their conduct and their language, we would notice that they are more motivated by war than their responsibility for peace.
And when they talk about peace all they do is accuse others they wish to destroy in the name of peace.
They claim they are looking after the interests of their people. You know as well as I do that this is not the truth.
Yes the world would respect this principle if it was genuinely applied.
It's not about power but it is about right and wrong, about when we base our human relations on good, and respect this principle.
So it becomes simple to adhere to this principle because anyone who violates it will be exposed to public opinion.
Benn: There are people who believe this present conflict is about oil, and I wonder if you would say something about how you see the enormous oil reserves of Iraq being developed, first for the benefit of the people of Iraq and secondly for the needs of mankind.
Saddam: When we speak about oil in this part of the world - we are an integral part of the world - we have to deal with others in all aspects of life, economic as well as social, technical, scientific and other areas.
It seems that the authorities in the US are motivated by aggression that has been evident for more than a decade against the region.
The first factor is the role of those influential people in the decision taken by the president of the US based on sympathy with the Zionist entity that was created at the expense of Palestine and its people and their humanity.
These people force the hand of the American administration by claiming that the Arabs pose a danger to Israel, without remembering their obligation to God and how the Palestinian people were driven out of their homeland.
The consecutive American administrations were led down a path of hostility against the people of this region, including our own nation and we are part of it.
Those people and others have been telling the various US administrations, especially the current one, that if you want to control the world you need to control the oil.
Therefore the destruction of Iraq is a pre-requisite to controlling oil. That means the destruction of the Iraqi national identity, since the Iraqis are committed to their principles and rights according to international law and the UN charter.
It seems that this argument has appealed to some US administrations especially the current one that if they control the oil in the Middle East, they would be able to control the world. They could dictate to China the size of its economic growth and interfere in its education system and could do the same to Germany and France and perhaps to Russia and Japan.
They might even tell the same to Britain if its oil doesn't satisfy its domestic consumption.
It seems to me that this hostility is a trademark of the current US administration and is based on its wish to control the world and spread its hegemony.
People have the right to say that if this aggression by the American administration continues, it would lead to widespread enmity and resistance.
We won't be able to develop the oil fields or the oil industry and therefore create worldwide co-operation as members of the human family when there is war, destruction and death.
Isn't it reasonable to question this approach and conclude that this road will not benefit anyone including America or its people?
It may serve some short-term interests or the interests of some influential powers in the US but we can't claim that it serves the interest of the American people in the long run or other nations.
Benn: There are tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of people in Britain and America, in Europe and worldwide, who want to see a peaceful outcome to this problem, and they are the real Americans in my opinion, the real British, the real French, the real Germans, because they think of the world in terms of their children.
I have 10 grandchildren and in my family there is English, Scottish, American, French, Irish, Jewish, Indian, Muslim blood, and for me politics is about their future, their survival.
And I wonder whether you could say something yourself directly through this interview to the peace movement of the world that might help to advance the cause they have in mind?
Saddam: First of all we admire the development of the peace movement around the world in the last few years.
We pray to God to empower all those working against war and for the cause of peace and security based on just peace for all.
And through you we say to the British people that Iraqis do not hate the British people.
Before 1991 Iraq and Britain had a normal relationship as well as normal relations with America.
At that time the British governments had no reason to criticise Iraq as we hear some voices doing these days.
We hope the British people would tell those who hate the Iraqis and wish them harm that there is no reason to justify this war and please tell them that I say to you because the British people are brave - tell them that the Iraqis are brave too.
Tell the British people if the Iraqis are subjected to aggression or humiliation they would fight bravely.
Just as the British people did in the Second World War and we will defend our country as they defended their country each in its own way.
The Iraqis don't wish war but if war is imposed upon them - if they are attacked and insulted - they will defend themselves. They will defend their country, their sovereignty and their security.
We will not disappoint those who believe in the principles of justice.
And we will uphold the principles of justice and right that we strongly believe in.
04 Feb 03 | Middle East
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