| Saddam Hussein
New York, Feb. 25 (Agencies): A defiant Iraqi President Saddam Hussein indicated he would not destroy the al Samoud missiles as demanded by UN inspectors and challenged US President George W. Bush to an open debate on the need for military action against Baghdad.
“We do not have missiles that go beyond the proscribed range,” Saddam Hussein said in an interview to CBS News, indicating Baghdad would resist attempts to dismantle missiles considered to be at the heart of the country’s defence.
Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has told Iraq to start destroying the missiles by March 1, contending that in some tests its range was more than the 150 km allowed under the UN Security Council resolution. Iraq, however, argues the missiles exceeded a trajectory of the prescribed 150 km because they lacked a guidance system and did not carry a warhead.
However, transmission of the CBS News interview has been held up by Baghdad, CBS News’ website (www.cbsnews.com) said. “Portions of the interview were to air today on The Early Show but Iraqi Television held up transmission of the tapes while they were being translated,” the website said. Parts of the interview had been scheduled to air on The Early Show with the remainder later in the day on CBS Evening News and tomorrow evening on CBS’ 60 Minutes. The interview was taped yesterday in Baghdad.
CBS News anchor Dan Rather said last evening that he had an exclusive three-hour interview with Saddam, in which the Iraqi leader, besides indicating it was not necessary to destroy the al Samoud missiles, also challenged US President George W. Bush to a televised debate.
Bush’s bete noire challenged him to a “live” televised debate on the need for a war: “This will be an opportunity for him, if he’s committed to war, this will be an opportunity to convince the world.”
“This (debate) is something proposed in earnest out of my respect for the people of the US and my respect for the people of Iraq and the people of the world. I call for this because war is not a joke,” he said in the three-hour interview.
The White House rejected the offer of debate outright as a “ridiculous stalling attempt by Saddam.” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told CBS that it’s “not a serious statement.” “This is not about a debate,” Fleischer said. “This is about disarmament and complying with the world’s instructions that Iraq disarm.”
As for the Iraqi President’s denial on possessing weapons of mass destruction, Fleischer said as Saddam Hussein “is not facing reality on the issue of the al Samoud missiles, why would his other statements have credibility'”
While Saddam didn’t describe war as “inevitable,” he did expect war.