Wednesday, February 26, 2003, Chandigarh, India

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I will not destroy missiles: Saddam

Washington, February 25
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said in an interview yesterday that he had no plan to comply with a UN demand that he should destroy his banned Al-Samoud 2 missiles.

Mr Hussein flatly denied that even his most advanced Al-Samoud missiles violated UN restrictions, indicating that he did not intend to destroy them or pledge to destroy them as demanded by Chief UN Inspector Hans Blix.

“We do not have missiles that go beyond the proscribed range,” Mr Hussein insisted in the CBS television interview, his first with a US journalist in a decade.

He also challenged US President George W. Bush to join him in a live radio and television satellite link-up to debate the need for war before the world.

“I am ready,” said the Iraqi President, “to conduct a direct dialogue — a debate — with your President. I will say what I want and he will say what he wants.”

“This will be an opportunity for him. If he’s committed to war, this will be an opportunity to convince the world.”

“This is something proposed in earnest” he said, “out of my respect for the people of the USA and my respect for the people of Iraq and the people of the world. I call for this because war is not a joke.”

“As leaders,” said the Iraqi President to his US counterpart, “why don’t we use this opportunity?”

“It’s definitely not a serious statement. There can be no debating the need for Saddam Hussein to disarm,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan earlier.

Chief UN Arms Inspector Hans Blix has given Iraq until Saturday to begin destroying the missiles, which can carry a warhead of 300 kg as well as component parts.

Mr Blix’s demand came after a panel of UN weapon experts concluded the Al-Samoud 2 missiles exceeded the allowed range of 150 km.

“What is serious is Saddam Hussein’s continued defiance of the United Nations Security Council. And on the very day that Hans Blix said there could be no negotiations over the destruction of his Al-Samoud missiles, Saddam Hussein again refuses to even acknowledge that the missiles are in violation of the UN resolutions,” said Mr McClellan.

“It is, yet again, further evidence that Saddam Hussein has not and will not disarm,” the spokesman said.

The comments came as the USA and its allies circulated a draft resolution widely seen as paving the way for military action. AFP

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