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Iraqi Scientist Says He Talked for Saddam

February 7, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ An Iraqi biologist who granted an unprecedented private interview to U.N. weapons inspectors said Friday he agreed to talk of his own free will, hoping to rob the United States of a ``pretext″ to attack Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein.

The interview with Sinan Abdel-Hassan _ the first scientist to be questioned without another Iraqi present _ has been described as a sign of hope by top U.N. weapons inspectors, who have been pressing Iraq to improve its cooperation with arms monitors to reduce chances of attack by the United States and Britain. Three other scientists gave private interviews late Friday.

``I decided to volunteer for the interview because of my love for my country, my people and my leader,″ he told Associated Press Television News. ``I don’t want the United States or Britain to have a pretext to attack Iraq.″

Abdel-Hassan, who once worked in Iraq’s biological weapons program, said the inspectors did not allow him to record the 3 1/2-hour interview, which touched on past weapons programs that Iraq claims it has dismantled.

In Washington, the White House downplayed the importance of the session, noting that Abdel-Hassan works for the Iraqi monitoring directorate, which is responsible for dealing with inspectors.

``The only one they’re interviewing without a minder is a minder,″ White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The inspectors have been trying for weeks to speak _ in private _ with Iraqi scientists linked to Iraq’s banned weapons programs. The arms monitors believed that the experts would be more forthright without an Iraqi official present in the security-conscious country.

The scientists and experts had refused to attend such meetings, fearing that their words would be twisted by outside interests. U.S. officials had countered that the scientists were threatened with death if they agreed to be interviewed alone, though Abdel-Hassan denied that in the interview with APTN.

``To the contrary,″ Abdel-Hasan said. ``Iraq is the only Arab nation that looks after science and scientists.″

Abdel-Hassan said he was encouraged to grant the interview by the chief Iraqi liaison with the U.N. inspection teams, Maj. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, who is also Abdel Hassan’s boss at the National Monitoring Directorate.

Nevertheless, Abdel-Hassan said he made the decision to talk on his own. He was influenced in part, he said, by an increase in ``America’s threats against my nation.″

He offered few details of the discussion, which was conducted in the early evening Thursday at the Bourj al-Hayat hotel in Baghdad, where many of the inspectors reside. U.N. officials have also declined to offer specifics.

The United States and Britain accuse Saddam’s regime of concealing chemical, nuclear and biological weapons that it is banned from having under U.N. resolutions adopted following its defeat in the 1991 Gulf War.

A resolution approved unanimously by the Security Council in November authorized a new round of U.N. weapons inspections and warned Iraq of serious consequences if it defied earlier resolutions requiring it to get rid of weapons of mass destruction.

U.N. chief nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei said the unprecedented interview was a good step, but that much more needed to be done at talks this weekend in Baghdad.

``Time is critical because the inspection is an alternative to war and not a prelude to it,″ ElBaradei told reporters while en route to Baghdad for the talks. ``This is why we hope to make as much progress as we can.″

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