BAGHDAD, Iraq -- President Saddam Hussein indicated Monday he would not reject outright a new U.N. resolution on weapons inspections, saying Iraq would examine the conditions it imposes before deciding on compliance, Iraqi TV reported.
Saddam's remarks appeared to mark a shift by the Iraqi leader, who had maintained he would only accept weapons inspectors on terms laid down in previous resolutions.
The comments appeared aimed at preparing the Iraqi people for acceptance of a new resolution and at buying time to stave off any American attack.
"Iraq will look into whether it will deal with a resolution after it is issued by the Security Council," state-run television quoted Saddam as saying during a meeting with Austrian far-right politician Joerg Haider.
In a separate meeting Monday with South African envoy Aziz Behad, Iraqi television quoted Saddam as saying that "Iraq will respect any behavior or decision that is issued in accordance with the U.N. Charter and international law."
No 'international cover'
However, Saddam made clear he wasn't accepting any resolution unseen.
"If the American pressure, enticements and threats lead to decisions that contradict with the interests, security and independence of Iraq, we will defend our people, Iraq's interests and its security," Iraqi television quoted him as saying.
"The most important thing is that we don't let America get the international cover for its aggression. If it unilaterally launches an aggression against us, we will confront it, God willing, although the Iraqis will be subjected to harm because America does not stop at anything," Saddam was quoted as telling Behad.
As recently as Sunday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri suggested Baghdad would reject a draft U.S. resolution on U.N. weapons inspections, calling it "an evil American resolution," and that Iraq would not be alone in doing so.
"This resolution is rejected by the international community, and it will never be accepted by anybody," Sabri said.
The United States has proposed a new resolution which would strengthen U.N. weapons inspections, declare Iraq in "material breach" of its obligations to destroy weapons of mass destruction and threaten "serious consequences," presumably military action, if Baghdad fails to cooperate with inspectors.
Russia, France and China contend the United States could use the resolution to launch an attack on Iraq without getting Security Council approval. They want the possibility of force to be considered in a second resolution only if Iraq obstructs the inspectors. Council members expect a revised American text this week.
The U.S. draft resolution now gives Iraq seven days to accept terms from the day of passage. Iraq would then have 30 days to declare its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs plus another 20 days to declare additional chemical stocks.
The resolution has been in the works since Iraq announced Sept. 16 that weapons inspectors would be welcome to return unconditionally after nearly four years.
Saddam also repeated past pledges that Iraq was free of chemical, nuclear and biological weapons and that his country would resist strongly any American strike.
"Iraq will defend itself if attacked by the United States of America," Iraqi television quoted him as saying.