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Wed Jan 08 2002 10:32:53 ET

Saddam Hussein will not leave his country and will ;fight to the last drop of blood,'' Iraq's ambassador to Moscow told Russia's Interfax news agency Wednesday, responding to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's statement that Saddam could avoid war by leaving Iraq.

;Saddam Hussein enjoys excellent health, he is in a determined mood, is in perfect control of the situation and believes in our victory,'' Interfax quoted Khalaf as saying in an interview.

;I'd like to assure you that (he) will continue to defend his homeland. He is one of the leaders who will never leave his country and will fight to the last drop of blood,'' said Khalaf, who recently returned from Iraq, where he and other Iraqi ambassadors met with Saddam.

Interfax said Khalaf was responding to a comment from Rumsfeld, who said Tuesday that one way for Saddam to avoid war ;would be that Saddam Hussein would pick up and leave the country tonight.'' Rumsfeld said the Iraqi leader could also ;turn over a new leaf and cooperate with the U.N. and disgorge all of his capabilities.''

Khalaf also dismissed what he said were media reports saying Saddam might seek refuge in Russia, calling them ;absolute nonsense'' and ;part of Washington and London's psychological war against Iraq,'' Interfax reported.

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