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Gary Younge
Saddam: I won't destroy missiles

In an exclusive interview with the CBS news anchor, Dan Rather, to be screened in the US tomorrow night, the Iraqi leader denied that the Samouds violated UN mandates and said he would not destroy them.

No transcripts of the first interview that President Saddam has conducted with a foreign journalist for 12 years were available last night. But Mr Rather said: "Saddam indicated he does not intend to destroy the missiles or pledge to destroy them as demanded by Blix."

President Saddam's challenge to a live, televised debate on the crisis with Mr Bush was dismissed out of hand by the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer.

"This is not a serious issue. There is no debating his need to disarm," he said.

The order to destroy the Samoud missiles is emerging as a test of how serious the Iraqi regime is about disarmament. The order was issued after experts decided that the missile flew farther than the 150km (93 mile) limit set down by the UN in 1991.

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