DAMASCUS, Syria – Negotiations can still avert a possible U.S. attack on Iraq, Iraq's vice president said as his country pressed ahead with its diplomatic campaign and the United States got more advice to proceed with caution.
The official Syrian Arab News Agency quoted Taha Yassin Ramadan as saying late Wednesday that talks with the United Nations over the return of arms inspectors to the country were not deadlocked.
"There's still room for diplomatic solutions to avert a war with the United States," Ramadan said during a brief visit to the northern Syrian city of Homs. Iraq, he added, was ready for dialogue, not surrender.
The United States accuses Iraqi President Saddam Hussein of rebuilding facilities to produce weapons of mass destruction and wants him removed from power.
U.N. inspectors charged with confirming the dismantling of Iraq's mass-destruction weapons have been barred from Iraq since 1998.
Three rounds of talks between the United Nations and Iraq this year failed to persuade Baghdad to readmit the inspectors. Baghdad often accuses the inspectors of being spies working for the United States and Israel.
Iraq said it wants to continue talks on the inspectors' return -- but with conditions U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has rejected.
U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait cannot be lifted until the inspectors certify that Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs have been dismantled along with the long-range missiles to deliver them.
Ramadan is on a three-day visit to Syria as part of what appears to be an Iraqi diplomatic offensive to rally opposition against a possible U.S. attack. Iraq's neighbors have warned such an attack could destabilize the region.
Ramadan was expected to visit Lebanon next. Other senior Iraqi officials are visiting China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with veto powers.
The British Foreign Office issued a statement Thursday saying it would discuss with its allies, including the United States, the possibility of setting a deadline for Saddam to allow in U.N. weapons inspectors. It did not say what should be done if the Iraqi leader ignored such a deadline.
Britain, the United States' staunchest ally, has repeatedly said it is too early to decide whether to participate in a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq. But it also has agreed with Washington that something must be done about Iraq's alleged development of weapons of mass destruction.
Washington is getting advice to move cautiously from many of its allies.
Ugur Ziyal, undersecretary in the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs, suggested in Washington Wednesday that instead of military force, the United States apply what he called ``therapy'' to Iraq -- such as tightening trade sanctions. Saudi Arabia has suggested relying on the United Nations to persuade Iraq to permit inspections.
Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill said his government would want to see evidence, such as U.S. satellite photos, that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or links to terror groups before agreeing to join a U.S. attack on the country.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf also warned that an attack would destabilize the region and said Pakistan would be reluctant to get involved.
"We have got too much on our hands here in this region to get involved in anything else, especially when one is very conscious that this shall have very negative repercussions in the Islamic world," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Syria would side with Iraq in the event of a U.S. attack but would not help militarily, the state-run Tishrin newspaper said in an editorial Thursday. Syria has forged close ties with Iraq in recent years after decades of intense enmity.