France Working on Saddam Exile Deal

American officials have told ABCNEWS that even with today's bombing, secret talks have continued behind the scenes about a Saddam Hussein surrender and exile to, among other places, the country of Mauritania in west Africa.

Secretary of State Colin Powell hinted at the possibility of ongoing talks, saying: "There are a number of channels open to Baghdad. There are a number of individuals in countries around the world who have been conveying the message to the Iraqi regime that it is now inevitable that there will be a change."

One of the back channels goes through France, according to American officials aware of the negotiations.

Proposed Haven in Mauritania?

Since December, ABCNEWS has learned, an emissary from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been in the middle of the secret offer of exile. American officials say the French go-between, Pierre Delval, an expert on counterfeiting, has repeatedly traveled to Baghdad to persuade Saddam to accept exile in Mauritania.

A former French colony, Mauritania is an Islamic republic said to have warm ties with Iraq.

Officials in Mauritania said they knew nothing of any exile offer to Saddam Hussein or his sons.

Despite the outward signs of defiance in the TV pictures of Saddam broadcast today, officials say the offer of exile remains very much in play.

U.S. officials say details of the exile were being negotiated through lawyers in Jordan who work for Saddam's son Qusai, also seen in the tape released today.

Officials in Washington are looking closely at that tape of Saddam and his son for clues. Was it actually taped today, indicating Saddam Hussein is alive? And does the absence of his son Odai serve to confirm reports that Odai was killed in the bombings Wednesday night?

In addition to the tape, American officials are calling on every resource at their disposal, satellite photos, electronic intercepts, and human spies from other countries, equipped with miniature communications gadgets to send reports back to Washington.

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