BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's vice president said he believes the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to his country would not prevent U.S. military strikes.
Taha Yassin Ramadan accused the inspectors of igniting past crises that gave the United States grounds to launch numerous attacks on Iraq since 1991, the state-run weekly newspaper al-Rafidain reported Tuesday.
"They (the U.N. inspectors) were the reason behind four U.S. aggressions on our country since 1991. So why should their presence in Iraq now prevent new U.S. attacks?" said Ramadan, who met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus on Tuesday.
Ramadan and Assad discussed the threat of U.S. attacks on Iraq, a Syrian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press in Damascus.
President Bush has warned Iraq of unspecified consequences if the U.N. inspectors -- barred from Iraq since 1998 -- are not readmitted, and his administration has spoken publicly of changing the regime in Baghdad.
Vice President Cheney said Monday that the United States could face devastating consequences if it delayed a pre-emptive strike to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and stop Iraq's alleged program of weapons of mass destruction.
Administration officials stress no decision has been made to invade Iraq, but they have been stepping up talk about why an attack is needed.
The inspectors' return is a key demand of the 15-member U.N. Security Council, especially the United States, which has accused Baghdad of rebuilding its banned weapons programs and of supporting terrorism.
After three rounds of recent talks, the United Nations has failed to persuade Iraq to readmit the monitors. Iraq said it wants to continue a dialogue with the world body on their return -- but with conditions U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has rejected.
Ramadan told Al-Rafidain that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, but that the Bush administration wants to oust Saddam regardless of the inspections issue.
Also Tuesday, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani told reporters before leaving Baghdad that his talks with Iraqi officials, including Saddam, showed "Iraq wants to cooperate with the United Nations, yet it has some suspicions that can be solved ... through frank dialogue."
After arriving in Baghdad on Monday, Sheik Hamad said Qatar opposed any U.S. attack on Iraq, but also wanted Iraq to accept the return of U.N. weapons inspectors.