Russia claims progress

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Russia insisted yesterday that it had made progress in persuading Iraq to comply with United Nations demands and head off the prospect of United States military action.

But confusion remained about the substance of envoy Viktor Posuvalyuk's talks in Iraq after Baghdad denied Russian reports that President Saddam Hussein had agreed to open eight new presidential sites to UN arms inspectors.

A Kremlin spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said: "There are shifts in the Iraqi position which mean movement towards meeting the demands of the world community. We hope this will make it possible to continue implementing UN resolutions on destruction of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

The US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, neared the end of her trip to Europe, the Middle East and the Gulf to drum up support for military action against Iraq. So far only Britain has given unequivocal backing to the campaign.

- Reuters, Moscow