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Iraqi Vice President Visits Lebanon, Syria - 2002-08-30

Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassine Ramadan is in Lebanon, the second leg of a trade and public relations campaign to gather support against possible U.S. military action against Iraq.

The Iraqi vice president arrived in Beirut after a stop in Syria, promoting trade deals and discounted oil prices. His efforts won smiles, handshakes and friendly words in both Damascus and Beirut.

Syria and Lebanon have lost millions of dollars in trade since the U.N. embargo was imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War and both are eager to repair the damage. But analysts say the chief reason for Mr. Ramadan's visit is to seek support from Arab countries in the face of a possible U.S. military attack to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Iraq's foreign minister also has been traveling as part of a diplomatic effort in to win international support against any U.S. attack.

In Beirut, the Iraqi vice president told reporters the United States knows it cannot overthrow Saddam Hussein in the same way it ousted Taleban rulers in Afghanistan. "Iraq," he said, "is not Afghanistan."

Mr. Ramadan appears to be aiming his comments mostly at Arab public opinion, urging Arabs to stop what he calls U.S. military aggression and repeating that Iraq is willing to negotiate with the United Nations.

In Lebanon, the media have voiced strong opposition to any U.S. military action against Iraq, and public opinion appears overwhelmingly opposed. In Syria, the daily newspaper Techrine, in Damascus, said Syria would support Iraq, if it is attacked, but would not help militarily.

Relations between Iraq and Syria were broken in 1980, after Syria supported Iran in the long Iran-Iraq war. And Lebanon has kept its distance from Iraq in recent years, despite on-again-off-again diplomatic relations.