Greece's official news agency says the country's foreign minister, George Papandreou, plans to visit seven countries in the Middle East early next month in an effort to avert a war against Iraq. Greek diplomats say Mr. Papandreou is seeking an 11th hour political solution to the Iraqi crisis, but they refuse to give any details about his mission.

Greece took over the European Union rotating presidency on January 1. Greek diplomats say their government is determined to press the EU view that the United Nations, and not the United States, should play the main role in resolving the U.N. standoff with Iraq over its alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction.

The government-run Athens News Agency quotes foreign ministry sources as saying all hope for a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis is not lost, and that Mr. Papandreou will urge the countries he visits to make their voices heard so as to avert a war.

It is not clear whether the timing of the mission in early February indicates that Greece or the European Union have been informed that the United States will refrain from taking military action before then.

On January 27, U.N. weapons inspectors are scheduled to report to the Security Council on their search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Most diplomats think the report is a key element in determining the timing of a U.S. strike against Iraq.