Saddam suggests he won't destroy missiles

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq's deputy prime minister insisted Tuesday that the government had not yet decided whether to destroy its Al Samoud 2 missiles, despite a TV interview in which Saddam Hussein appeared to reject compliance with the U.N. demand.

Both Iraqi and U.N. officials spoke of new, substantive cooperation. U.N. inspectors visited a pit where Iraq says it destroyed biological weapons in 1991, and Iraq reported finding an R-400 bomb containing liquid at a disposal site.

"We have made some progress. In fact, we have made some breakthroughs," said Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, Saddam's adviser on the inspections.

Iraq appeared to be sending conflicting messages over an order from chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to destroy its Al Samouds and their components by the end of the week because the missiles can fly farther than allowed.

The missiles are still being produced and tested, the inspectors' spokesman in Baghdad, Hiro Ueki, said Tuesday. He said the last test took place Monday.

In a CBS-TV interview with Saddam, the Iraqi president indicated he won't heed the demand. The network broadcast excerpts from its three-hour interview, with Saddam saying he did not have missiles that went beyond the range limit set by the United Nations.

'It's being studied'

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz insisted Tuesday that no decision on the missiles had been reached, saying: "It's being studied."

"Readiness for the aggression is continuing ... but this doesn't mean that we should stop our political and diplomatic work," Aziz said. "We should continue with it, but we should also prepare ourselves for the battle."

Al-Saadi also said Iraq was still studying the U.N. missile order. He said he would not comment on the Saddam interview because he had not seen it.

Ueki said at a news conference that the United Nations was still awaiting an official response on the missiles.

He said inspectors have completed tagging all deployed Al Samoud 2 missiles but still needed to tag some unassembled components.

Ueki also said inspectors have begun to visit excavations by the Iraqis southeast of Baghdad at a site where Iraq says it destroyed bombs filled with biological agents in 1991.

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