The chief of U.N. nuclear weapons inspectors says it could take four or five more months to determine if Iraq possesses a nuclear weapons capability. Mohammed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency is appealing to Iraq to more actively cooperate with his inspection team.

As speculation grows that a war is nearing over Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction, the chief U.N. nuclear inspector says he needs more time to complete his work.

Mohammed ElBaradei told British radio Thursday, he could use another four or five months before he feels he could declare that Iraq is free of nuclear weapons. He says he has been urging the Iraqis to be more cooperative.

"They need to show quickly that there is a change of heart, that they are eager to be disarmed, and [are] not just being dragged into compliance," he said.

Mr. ElBaradei says Iraq has been reasonably cooperative with his team of inspectors, but less so with the U.N. officials who are looking for chemical and biological weapons.

He says the world should still focus its attention on settling the confrontation with Iraq peacefully.

"I will do my damn best to ensure that war is not inevitable," he stressed, "and I will try every possible way to try to see whether we can resolve that issue through peaceful means, even if it takes a few more months. If we can spare ourselves a war with incalculable consequences, then it would be a great achievement for humanity."

Mr. ElBaradei says his inspectors continue to investigate some aluminum tubes found in Iraq that President Bush says are suitable for nuclear weapons production.

Mr. ElBaradei says his preliminary conclusion is that the tubes are for conventional rockets, and not for enriching uranium, though he says they could be modified for that purpose.