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Bush lets Saddam suspense simmer

Washington, Dec. 15: There is no decision yet on the fate of Saddam Hussein.

Saddam’s whereabouts, too, remained shrouded in mystery. CNN said he had been spirited away to an American base in Qatar, but a member of the US-backed Iraqi governing council swiftly denied the report.

Notwithstanding the flood of statements from Iraq on Saddam’s trial and the possibility of a death sentence, President George W. Bush said here today that “we will work with Iraqis to develop a way to try him that will withstand international scrutiny”.

At his first news conference after Saddam’s capture, Bush said: “There needs to be a public trial and all the atrocities need to come out and justice needs to be delivered.”

He paused for long before answering the first question on Saddam’s fate, then revealed that he had told the new Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, among others, that Iraqis must be involved in the process of delivering justice to America’s No.1 prisoner in Iraq.

Bush’s comments came as Iran moved fast and staked claim to the right to try Saddam over the 1980-88 war in which 300,000 Iranians were killed.

With the prize of the top enemy in his hands, Bush appeared to break with an acrimonious foreign policy past and reach out to countries which had opposed the war in Iraq. “I have reached out to them (France and Germany) and they have reached out to me. I look forward to working with them.”

As Bush was holding his news conference, Lt Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top US military commander in Iraq, was on CBS answering the million-dollar question on whether Saddam was cooperating with his captors during their interrogation.

“At this point, I wouldn’t characterise it... either way, cooperative or uncooperative,” Sanchez said. “In my interfaces with him, he has been talkative. He will respond readily to questions that are asked of him in terms of just normal administrative requirements. That is how I would term his cooperation with us at this point.”

Bush was asked about revelations by US soldiers that Saddam had offered to negotiate with the Americans as they were closing in on him. He laughed, but said “laughing is not scoffing”.

“I don’t trust Saddam Hussein,” Bush said. “The world is better off without you, Mr Saddam Hussein.”

The President resisted his natural temptation to be Texan and repeat his infamous line after September 11 that he wanted Osama bin Laden “dead or alive”. Bush is known to have been criticised privately for that statement by many people, including First Lady Laura Bush.

Today Bush said he had his personal views on how Saddam should be treated for his crimes. He stopped short of describing them, but it was clear what he had in mind. Saddam “is a liar, he is a torturer, he is a murderer”, he angrily said. “But my personal views are not important. I am not an Iraqi citizen.”

The President was repeatedly asked about Saddam’s attempt to kill Bush senior, who had waged war on Iraq to vacate the occupation of Kuwait. Bush said his father had spoken to him on the phone on Sunday and said it was a “great day for America. I told him it is a greater day for the Iraqi people”.

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