The meeting comes days after his lawyers protested over lack of access to him and other detained former Iraqi officials, the defence team said.

 

"The interview lasted for more than four hours. The president seems in good health, much better compared to his first appearance before the court," the Amman-based legal team said in a statement emailed to news agencies on Thursday.

   

"The president appreciated his defence committee efforts,"  the statement said.

   

A spokesman for the team said one of its 20 members had visited Saddam, but declined to identify the individual.

   

Saddam, 67, was captured by US forces on 13 December 2003. He is due to be tried for war crimes, as are 11 top aides, although no date has been set for any trial.

 

Access

   

The ousted Iraqi president's lawyers said earlier this week they did not recognise the Iraqi interim government's efforts to try him or his deputies because they had been denied access to counsel.

 

Allawi said some of the trials
would begin next week

Lawyers were also not able to see documents on which to prepare their defences.    

 

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said on Tuesday that war crimes trials of some of Saddam's lieutenants would begin next week.

 

The defence minister said Saddam's cousin Ali Hasan al-Majid would appear first in a process set to start by mid-January.

 

Proceedings

   

Western diplomats said the proceedings were not the start of a war crimes trial but preliminary investigative hearings.

   

"The president seems
in good health, much better compared to
his first appearance
before the court"

Saddam Hussein's
Amman-based legal team

Saddam himself is expected to be among the last to be tried. However, the Iraqi special tribunal organising the process said on Wednesday that those whose trials were most imminent had been granted access to lawyers.

 

Twelve leaders of the former Baathist government, including Saddam, are being guarded by US troops at the military base of Camp Cropper near Baghdad, awaiting trial by Iraqi judges.

   

Some of them briefly shunned food this week in protest against their detentions.

   

The Jordanian spokesman for Saddam's defence team, Ziyad Khasawnah, said he did not know when his high-profile client would next appear in court.

   

Khasawnah, appointed by Saddam's wife Sajida, had threatened legal action against the US administration unless members of the team were allowed to see their client.