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SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ

Read His Lips: He Has No Weapons

Saddam Hussein, in British TV interview, denies he has illegal arms or ties to Al Qaeda.

February 05, 2003|Janet Stobart | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — Iraqi President Saddam Hussein denied that his regime has any weapons of mass destruction or links to Al Qaeda, and he accused the United States and Britain of being "more motivated by war than their responsibility for peace," in an interview televised Tuesday.

Speaking slowly and deliberately through an Arabic interpreter, Hussein used the interview with Tony Benn, a leftist former member of Britain's Parliament and a peace activist, to try to make his case to the outside world as war looms.

"This is an opportunity to reach the British people and 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," Hussein said in the broadcast on Britain's Channel 4 News. "We challenge anyone who claims that we have to bring forward any evidence and present it to public opinion."

To Benn's next question -- "Do you have links with Al Qaeda?" -- Hussein said: "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."

Hussein argued that he has no quarrel with weapons inspectors seeking to disarm his country under the mandate of a U.N. resolution passed last fall.

"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," he said. "Iraq has no interest in war.... The question should be directed at the other side. Are they looking for a pretext so they could justify war against Iraq?"

In any case, he asserted, Iraq is complying with the inspectors.

"If the purpose was to make sure that Iraq is free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, then they can do that," he said. "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."

Hussein charged that oil is behind what he called the aggression of the United States.

"If you want to control the world, you need to control the oil," he said. "Therefore, the destruction of Iraq is a prerequisite to controlling oil."

But he said the "first factor" in the moves against Iraq "is the role of those influential people in the decision taken by the president of the U.S. based on sympathy with the Zionist entity that was created at the expense of Palestine and its people."

With the creation of Israel, he charged, "consecutive American administrations were led down a path of hostility against the people of this region, including our own nation."

A spokesman from British Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said that the interview changed nothing and that Hussein still must cooperate with the weapons inspectors.

Speaking on Channel 4 News after the broadcast, Benn said Hussein's answers "confirmed me in my view [that] we must work for peace. I met women and children in the streets of Baghdad who will be dead next month if we go to war."

Ann Clwyd, a Labor member of Parliament who wants Hussein to be indicted on war crimes charges, criticized the interview for the questions that weren't asked, such as:

"Why is it you won't allow Iraqi scientists to be interviewed without the presence of a minder? What has happened to the thousands of people who are still in your prisons?"

Clwyd and Harold Walker, a former ambassador to Iraq, said they believe Hussein's assertion that he has no ties to Al Qaeda but not his claim that he has no weapons of mass destruction.

Walker said Hussein's appeal for cooperation rather than confrontation was hardly credible and would make no difference in any war plans.

"I think it's quite clear that this U.S. administration has made up its mind that war is almost inevitable," he said.

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