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Iraq insists it has fulfilled pledge to destroy weapons

While diplomats labored to head off a U.S. military strike, Iraqi officials insisted Friday that Baghdad had fulfilled its obligation to destroy its weapons of mass destruction.

That declaration - by Baghdad's chief liaison to U.N. weapons inspectors - came after Iraqi officials met with a U.N. delegation reviewing the seven-year weapons monitoring effort."The talks are going in our favor," the liaison, Gen. Hussam Mohammed Amin, told the official Iraqi News Agency, saying the evidence would show that Iraq has destroyed all its long-range missiles and warheads.

The weapons inspectors have accused the government of hiding both weapons and the means to build them.

The arms inspectors must certify that Iraq has destroyed its weapons programs before U.N. sanctions imposed after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait can be lifted.

The sanctions forbid the unrestricted export of Iraq's oil, its major money earner - a ban that has devastated the country's economy.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has so far barred the U.N. team from his palaces and other sensitive sites, claiming letting them in would compromise national sovereignty.

Russian envoy Viktor Posuvalyuk remained in Baghdad on Friday, and diplomats - speaking on conditions of anonymity - said he was putting the final touches on a Russian compromise to allow arms inspectors into the many palaces.

In Washington, President Clinton said he was still hoping for a solution short of an attack on Iraq but insisted Iraq must allow complete access to all sites.

"Whether there is a diplomatic solution is entirely up to Saddam Hussein," he told a news conference after a meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Iraqi Culture Minister Humam Abdel-Khaliq said Thursday that the outline of the Russian plan - which has not been made public - was being forwarded to the U.N. Security Council for discussion.

Diplomats from France, Turkey and the Arab League left Baghdad on Thursday and Friday after trying to persuade Saddam to compromise on the palaces.

Russia, France and China have argued against a military strike and insisted a diplomatic solution to the crisis can be found.