In an exclusive interview with CBS Anchor Dan Rather, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein says he will die before going into exile. Hussein also denied links with Osama bin Laden and indicated he would not set fire to Iraq's oil fields or other sabotage in the event of a U.S.-led invastion.
In the interview, which airs on 60 Minutes II on Wednesday, 9 p.m. EST, 8 pm CT., Saddam answered key questions about what his actions might be in the event of a U.S.-led war against Iraq. The interview with Rather was Saddam's first with an American journalist in about a decade.
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 Al Qaeda:
Rather: "Mr. President, Americans are very much concerned about anyone's connections to Osama bin Laden. Do you have, have you had, any connections to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden?"
Saddam: "... 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."
Saddam also told Rather the American people are not his enemy and urged dialogue, including a debate with President Bush, to avoid war.
The Iraqi president was also asked about his Al Samoud 2 missiles are in violation of U.N. mandates and indicates he will not destroy them, as chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix has demanded.
Additional excerpts of the interview will air Wednesday on The Early Show and then on a special edition of 60 Minutes II on Wednesday night at 9 pm ET, 8 pm CT.
In excerpts released earlier, Saddam indicated his would not destroy his arsenal of al-Samoud missiles, as ordered by the U.N. He also challenged President Bush to a debate.
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.
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.