BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein says he would rather die than leave his country and that he would not destroy its wealth by setting fire to its oil wells in the event of a U.S.-led invasion.
Saddam, in an interview with CBS' Dan Rather, dismissed any idea of going into exile to avoid war.
"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," Saddam said according to excerpts of the interview posted on the network's Web site Tuesday. CBS said the comments would air Wednesday on 60 Minutes II.
President Bush said last month that he would welcome exile for Saddam, and some Arab countries — most notably Saudi Arabia — have proposed offering Saddam exile to avert war.
Saddam also indicated he would not set fire to Iraq's oil fields or destroy its dams if there is a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. During the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi set fire to hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells as they were driven out of that country. It took months to extinguish the fires whose thick, black smoke created an environmental disaster.
"Iraq does not burn its wealth and it does not destroy its dams," Saddam says in the interview filmed Monday in Baghdad.
The Iraqi also said his country had never had any links to Usama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terror network. "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 a part of the interview that CBS aired earlier Tuesday, Saddam indicated he would not heed a U.N. demand to destroy Iraq's Al Samoud 2 missiles. He said his missiles didn't exceed ranges allowed by the United Nations.
But Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, insisted Tuesday that the government had not yet decided whether to destroy the Al Samoud 2s. "It's being studied," Aziz said.
"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."
U.N. inspectors visited a pit where Iraq says it destroyed biological weapons in 1991, and Iraq reported finding two R-400 aerial bombs that can be filled with biological or chemical agents at a disposal site. In New York, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said one of the R-400 bombs was filled with "a liquid that appears to be biological."
"We have made some progress. In fact, we have made some breakthroughs," said Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, Saddam's adviser on the inspections.
Blix has ordered Iraq to begin destroying its Al Samoud 2 missiles and their components by the end of the week because the missiles can fly farther than the allowed 93 miles.
Hiro Ueki, the inspectors' spokesman in Baghdad, said Tuesday that the Al Samoud 2s are still being produced and tested. He said the last test took place Monday.
Al-Saadi said Iraq was still studying the U.N. order and that he would not comment on the Saddam interview because he had not seen it.
Ueki said the United Nations was still awaiting an official response on the missiles. The inspectors have completed tagging all deployed Al Samoud 2 missiles but still needed to tag some unassembled components, he added.
An Iraqi refusal to comply with the destruction order, could swing some support to a draft U.N. resolution submitted Monday by the United States, Britain and Spain to pave the way for war.
Editorials in Iraqi newspapers Wednesday appealed to Security Council members to reject appeals for support from the United States.
"Security Council members have a great responsibility ... to make sure that the Security Council is a tool to preserve security, not a a tool or a cover used to wage aggressive wars," al-Thawra, the newspaper of the ruling Baath Party, said in a front-page editorial.
Ueki 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. On Monday and Tuesday, inspectors examined munitions fragments around the pit, he said.
A team of inspectors returned to the site on Wednesday, Iraq's Information Ministry said.
It said other teams visited a missile factory, a cement plant, a communications shop, and that inspectors resumed work destroying old stores of mustard gas that Iraq reported. Inspectors also were seen entering a Peugot service center.