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Russia basking in glory of Iraq diplomacy

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U.N. arms inspectors including Americans returned to Iraq on Friday under an accord hailed as a victory by Iraq and Russia but met by caution in the United States.

President Clinton said the return of the weapons inspectors to Baghdad was an important achievement and called for vigilance against a revival of Iraq's programs for weapons of mass destruction.Washington underlined its skepticism by moving more warplanes and ships into the gulf in striking range of Iraq.

But Iraq's ruling Baath party newspaper al-Thawra said in an editorial: "Our latest battle with the world oppressors in America has led to a great victory worthy of pride and glory.

"We have proved to everyone . . . that we have a national iron will."

In Moscow, Russian media basked in the glory of staging a rare international diplomatic coup by negotiating a peaceful way out of the crisis between the United Nations and Iraq.

President Saddam Hussein expelled six American inspectors Nov. 13, saying they were spies, and prompting the U.N. chief arms inspector to pull out his whole team the next day.

Between 70 and 80 inspectors flew to Iraq from Bahrain Friday to resume monitoring the destruction of Iraq's weapons.

"About 80 inspectors arrived today. There are Americans among them. They will start inspections in earnest as soon as possible," said an official with the U.N. Special Commission charged with scrapping Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The inspectors traveled to Baghdad from Habbaniya airport 60 miles to the northwest in cars and a bus and answered questions on their future work with "No comment."

Washington warned of Saddam rebuilding his arsenal.

"We must be constantly vigilant and resolute, and with our friends and partners we must be especially determined to prevent Saddam's ability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction program," Clinton said at a White House ceremony at which he received a medal for Arab-Israeli peace efforts.

He said the "unconditional return" of the U.N. inspectors was an important achievement for the international community.

"It shows once again that determined diplomacy backed by the potential of force is the only way to deal with Saddam Hussein," he said.

"We must make sure that inspectors are able to resume their mission unimpeded," he said. "They must be able to proceed with their work without interference to find, to destroy, to prevent Iraq from building nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to carry them."

White House spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters the United States would work with the United Nations to make the U.N. inspection team in Iraq more effective. "The United States believes they are going to have to have a stronger presence in Iraq in order to accomplish that," he said.

An advisory board of UNSCOM meanwhile held a daylong brainstorming session in New York behind closed doors Friday to discuss ways of improving its work methods.

UNSCOM chief Richard Butler said the panel would "consider the present situation that was caused by Iraq, what effects it's had, and discuss some ways in which we could be made more effective."

The Security Council was not expected to take any action until it had time to study the panel's proposals, at which point divergent views on tackling Iraq were likely to surface.

One possible recommendation was an increase in the number of UNSCOM weapons inspectors. This might decrease the proportion of Americans on inspection teams - an Iraqi objective - but not their overall number. Such a move could be interpreted as enhancing thoroughness of UNSCOM operations.

In Moscow, media revelled in a rare diplomatic victory.

"This success is the first of its kind for several years," the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta said. "This time Moscow acted . . . as a world power averting what had at first seemed an inevitable war in the gulf."