WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III, nearing the end of a mission to shore up allied support for the war option against Iraq, said yesterday that a common view on how long to wait may emerge next week.
"What we're seeking to do is solicit the views and opinions of each of the countries in the coalition, give them our views and then come up with a consensus position," he said
in a "Today" show interview. "And I think we'll be in a position in a week or so to give you perhaps a little bit better idea of what we might be talking about."
Such a disclosure would be a strategy shift for the United States, which consistently has refused to reveal any kind of timetable. But certain factors influencing the timing already are known:
* The huge Persian Gulf buildup ordered by President Bush Thursday won't be finished until after the first of the year.
* Sanctions will take even longer to bring internal pressure on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
* Some allies, such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, favor waiting.
Mr. Baker spoke before leaving Moscow for London, where he met with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Paris, where he was to meet today with President Francois Mitterrand.
A senior administration official told reporters that while he was certain that the Saudis, Egyptians, British and Kuwaitis would fight alongside Americans in any war with Iraq, he didn't know about the French and the Syrians. "We'll know better tomorrow," he said of the French.
Mr. Baker skipped Syria on this week's Mideast trip, sending Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly instead.
The senior official said the Soviets were no more optimistic than the United States about Mr. Hussein's willingness to leave Kuwait.
While U.S. preparations for war, should it become necessary, ought to "send a reasonably clear signal" to Mr. Hussein, the official said, "I don't know whether his antennae will be set in a 'receive' mode or not."
In other gulf developments:
* The State Department disclosed that Miles Hoffman, the 33-year-old Georgian who had been shot and wounded trying to flee Iraqi troops in Kuwait in early September, was among three American hostages freed with 173 other Westerners after a visit to Iraq by former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt.
Also on the flight from Baghdad to Frankfurt, Germany, were Don Swanke and his wife, Brenda, of Westlake Village, Calif.
* CIA Director William H. Webster was reported to be visiting Turkey, a NATO ally that shares a border with Iraq. The CIA said it never comments on the director's travels.