NEW YORK, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has denied that Baghdad had any connection with al Qaida or its leader Osama bin Laden and that Iraq would set fire to its oil fields and blow up its dams in response to a U.S.-led invasion.
"Iraq does not burn its wealth and it does not destroy its dams," he told CBS News anchor Dan Rather in a three-hour interview to be aired Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. EST on the network's 60 Minutes II program.
He added: "We hope, 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."
During the interview, when asked if he intended to destroy Al-Samoud 2 missiles as called for the chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix, Saddam said: "Our commitment is to abide, to comply with the 1441 resolution and to apply it. As you know Iraq is allowed to manufacture land to land rockets as per the resolution of the United Nations."
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, passed Nov. 7, called for Iraq to disarm or face "serious consequences."
When asked by Rather what his comments meant, and whether Baghdad would destroy them, Saddam said, "We have no missiles outside the specifications of the United Nations, and the inspections teams are here and they are looking."
Blix has given Iraq until Saturday to begin destroying the missiles.
"The missiles that you are talking about, the missiles that are against the resolutions, these do not exist and they have been destroyed," he told CBS News.
The White House criticized CBS News on Wednesday for its interview with Saddam, and warned reporters that the American media would be facing some difficult decisions as Iraq puts people out to engage in propaganda.
"I believe that in this case Dan Rather deserves to be congratulated for getting a serious journalistic interview with Saddam Hussein," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "However, we view what Saddam Hussein has said as propaganda and lies."
CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius told United Press International late Wednesday that "the White House position will be included on all subjects were appropriate."
The Iraqi leader also denied his country was linked to suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and al Qaida, the network of cells that has been blamed for several terrorist acts including the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States in which some 3,000 people died.
"We have never had any relationship with Mr. Osama bin Laden, and Iraq had never had any relationship with al Qaida," Saddam said. "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."
The Iraqi president also said he would refuse any offer of exile, even to avoid war, saying that he will die in his country to "maintain our honor."
"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," he said.
"We will die here. We will die in this country and we will maintain our honor."
Saddam added that whoever offers him asylum "is in fact a person without morals."
It was thought that Saddam would consider an offer of exile to save his country from a possible war. The United States is amassing thousands of troops in the region while U.N. inspectors search the country for suspected weapons of mass destruction.
Saddam also challenged U.S. President George W. Bush to a live debate.
"I am ready to dialogue with Mr. Bush, the president of the United States," he told Rather. The White House had already rejected the idea.
"All I am asking is to appear before the American people and other people in direct discussion. This is an opportunity for him if he is really convinced about his position about preparations for war ... and it's an opportunity for us to tell the world about our reason to want to live in peace."
The interview with Rather, 71, was the first for Saddam with a U.S. journalist in more than a decade. The interview, which took place Monday, was filmed by Iraqi television, which also provided a translation and pieced together videotape from three separate cameras into a single recording.
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