Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in his first meeting with an American journalist in a decade, tells CBS News that his people will not surrender in the face of United States military might.
Saddam told CBS News Anchor Dan Rather that Iraqis will "stand by our principles" and that "the final truth will be decided…in Iraq."
In the exclusive interview, which will air on a special edition of 60 Minutes II on Wednesday night (9 pm ET, 8 pm CT), Saddam also denies any link with al Qaeda or any plans to destroy Iraq's oil fields in the event of invasion.
The Iraqi leader also contended his country's Al Samoud 2 missiles — which U.N. inspectors have said violate range limits and must be destroyed — are perfectly legal, and told Rather the American people are not his enemy and invited President Bush to debate the merits of a war against his country.
In one section of the interview, Saddam says: "We do not compromise our independence, our dignity, our freedom. At the same time, we comply with what has been put forth by the Security Council."
He adds: "If there are new resolutions that violate our dignity, our security, our independence, then it will be clear that we will stand by our principles."
Discussing the meeting with CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith, Rather said Saddam appeared to understand the gravity of the situation he faces, in contrast to his attitude before the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
"However, in both what he said and how he said it, he comes across as a man absolutely convinced that it's his destiny to survive," Rather told Smith. "That's critical to understanding Saddam Hussein. He envisions himself as the ultimate survivor."
According to Rather, Saddam believes that while war would impose a terrible cost, Iraq can absorb the attack and maintain resistance, eventually outlasting the invaders.
"Isn't it the part of our responsibility, patriotic duty, moral right and a basic principle of faith to tell the aggressor that if you attack us, we will not surrender?" Saddam replied to a question about the threat facing his regime.
Later, he added that "the final truth is decided by God almighty through the Iraqis here, here in Iraq."
Asked if he had any connection to Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader, Saddam answered: "Iraq has never had any relationship with al Qaeda and I think that Mr. bin Laden himself has recently, in one of his speeches, given such an answer that we have no relation with him."
In the interview, Saddam answered other key questions about Iraq's weapons and the looming war.
On Going Into Exile:
Dan Rather: "Mr. President, have you been offered asylum anywhere? And would you, under any circumstances, consider going into exile to save your people death and destruction?"
Saddam Hussein: "I was born here in Iraq ... I am proud to have been born fearing God and I have taught my children the value of history and the value of human stands ... Whoever decides to forsake his nation from whoever requests is not true to the principles. We will die here. We will die in this country and we will maintain our honor -- the honor that is required…in front of our people. I believe that whoever ... offers Saddam asylum in his own country is in fact a person without morals."
On Burning The Oil Fields:
Rather: "…If there is an invasion, will you set fire to the oil fields? Will you blow the dams? or your reservoirs of water to resist the invasion?"
Saddam: "I've answered the hypothesis, but to indulge in the details: Iraq does not burn its wealth and it does not destroy its dams. We hope that, however, that this question is not meant as an insinuation, so that the Iraqi dams and the Iraqi oil wells will be destroyed by those who will invade Iraq in their possible invasion of the country…"
On The Al Samoud Missiles
Rather: Mr. President, do you intend to destroy the Al Samoud missiles that the United Nations prohibits? Will you destroy those missiles?
Saddam: Our commitment is to abide, to comply with the resolution and to apply it as per the will of the United Nations and on that basis we have acted and we shall act.
As you know, Iraq is allowed to manufacture land-to-land rockets as per the resolution of the United Nations.
Rather: I want to make sure you understand, Mr. President. You do not intend to destroy these missiles?
Saddam: Which missiles? What do you mean? We have no missiles outside the specifications of the United Nations and the inspection teams are here and they're looking. I believe the United States knows and the world knows that Iraq has none of what has been said at the higher political levels.
And I believe all the turmoil that's going on and all these fleets and these concentrations of troops, all this is to cover the big lie that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction such as biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. So, the missiles you are talking about, the missiles that are against the resolution of the United Nations, these do not exist and they have been destroyed.
On The Approach To War:
Rather: What is the most important thing you want the American people to understand at this important juncture of history?
Saddam: First, that you tell them that Iraqi people are not the enemy of the American people. If the American people want to know more through dialogue through television screens, I am ready to dialogue with Bush, with Mr. Bush, the president of the United States, and to appear together before the television. And I would say what I have to say, what I have to say about the American policy and he can say things about the Iraqi policy and let that be on television in a just and fair way.
Rather: Are you speaking of a debate? Yes, a debate. This is new. You are saying that you are willing, you are suggesting, you are urging a debate with President Bush on television?
Saddam: Yes, that's it. We are not asking for a contest with weapons. All I'm asking is to appear before the American people and other people in a direct discussion in a conversation between me and Mr. Bush that's broadcast by television.
This is an opportunity for him, if he is really convinced about his position, about preparations for war, or any other means, to convince the whole world about the reasons that justifies war. And it's opportunity for us to tell the world about our reasons to want to live in peace.
Rather: This is not a joke?
Saddam: Not at all. I'm not joking. This is because of my respect for the American public opinion. Conducting a dialogue could bring peace. Why not go and have a debate?
Note From CBS: The interview was taped by Iraqi TV crews, as is standard practice for Hussein, and the Iraqis delivered a tape that combined all three cameras into one composite feed. However, as far as we can determine, the content of the interview is intact. The Iraqis assured us beforehand that there would be no censorship whatsoever of the interview, which ran for almost three hours, and they have apparently lived up to that assurance. We will continue to check the transcript against our own notes, and if that changes, we will of course let you know.