- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein denied links with the al Qaida network and said his country had no weapons of mass destruction in an interview broadcast Tuesday, and France maintained it would oppose any military action to disarm him.

Saddam told left-wing British politician Tony Benn that Baghdad had no links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaida, which has been blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington. He said if there were such a relationship, Iraq would acknowledge it.

Britain's Channel 4 news said it would air the interview at 7:00 p.m. GMT (2 p.m. EST). The meeting took place at one of Saddam's palaces in Baghdad.

U.S. President George W. Bush says there might be links between Baghdad and al Qaida.

In France, British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with French President Jacques Chirac to try to win support for military action against Iraq if Saddam didn't disarm. He wasn't successful.

"War is always the worst possible solution," Chirac told reporters after five hours of talks with Blair. "In that region above all others we do not need any more wars."

The United States says Saddam has a history of deceiving the United Nations and must be disarmed either through the world body or by unilateral force. Blair has been Bush's strongest supporter on the issue.

Asked whether the investigators needed weeks or months to finish their job, Blair said: "The inspectors will next report on Feb. 14 and we should take account of that very carefully."

Chirac, however, urged caution.

"We need to give the inspectors time to carry out the work entrusted to them," he said.

Also Tuesday, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said the European Union, which Greece now heads, was working with Arab states to end the Iraq dispute peacefully.

"War is not inevitable," he said after meeting with Lebanese leaders in Beirut. "We are not designed for war."

He said Saddam should "understand the reality that he must fully cooperate and answer the questions in the report" submitted by U.N. inspectors to the United Nations.

Since resuming searches on Nov. 27 after a four-year hiatus, more than 100 inspectors from the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency have visited over 500 sites across Iraq that are suspected of involvement in Iraq's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is scheduled to present evidence that the U.S. says proves Baghdad is deceiving U.N. inspectors. News reports have said evidence will include transcripts of taped conversations in which Iraqi officials plot to fool U.N. inspectors and later brag about it.

Arab states, including U.S. allies, have urged caution in dealing with Iraq.

On Tuesday, Amr Mousa, secretary-general of the 22-member Arab League, said there would be "endless" loss and instability in the event of a war.

"… Arab countries cannot stand idle," he told Lebanon's As Safir newspaper. "This is a war against an Arab country."

U.N. inspectors continued their search of suspected Iraqi nuclear sites.

The inspectors visited nine sites, including a factory producing parts for short-range missiles near Faluja, 40 miles west of Baghdad. Security Council resolutions allow Iraq to produce missiles with a range of less than 90 miles.

Other sites inspected Tuesday were a water treatment plant and an agricultural equipment firm in central Baghdad.

The inspectors also headed to a sugar and yeast factory in the city of Mosul, 275 miles north of Baghdad.

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