In the State Department's antique-filled Diplomatic Reception Rooms last night, the ambassadors of Kuwait, Britain, France, Canada, Austria and a few more countries gathered in groups of two. They talked about Secretary of State James Baker -- and what they'd seen and heard when they were glued to the television set as the U.N. Security Council voted in favor of the U.S. resolution authorizing the use of force in the Middle East.

Baker himself, billed as the host of the elaborate 18th-century James Monroe dinner to benefit the reception rooms, "is on his way back home. I think he's in the air now," said his wife, Susan, standing in the receiving line. Until the last minute, Clement Conger, the curator of the rooms, hoped Baker would make it back in time. In fact, the secretary had stayed in New York to have dinner with some of the U.N. diplomats.

Saud N. Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador, said, "Secretary Baker was remarkable. We're extremely pleased. The principal thing is that Iraq is not being allowed to stay indefinitely. People are either on the side of justice or evil. And now we have seen the principal nations are on our side. This has given confidence to our people." He said that everyone at his embassy had been watching it on television.

Pulling himself away from admiring the Georgian silver in the cases along the wall, while Lady Jennifer Acland looked carefully at the Chinese Export Porcelain, British Ambassador Sir Antony Acland called the U.N. event "a great success. It was a tribute to Secretary Baker's hard work." He added that Margaret Thatcher's departure "will not affect the British policy in the gulf. After all it is the same party, government and cabinet. We are reliable allies." The change of prime ministers has not affected his own position either, he said. "Sadly, I am due to leave in July. That had already been announced. We have had John Major here three times; he is a very pleasant and able man."

French Ambassador Jacques Andreani said he watched the U.N. speeches. "It was actually very simple. The point was the vote."

"The result was not a surprise," said Canadian Ambassador Derek H. Burney. "Prime Minister Brian Mulroney explained well to our parliament why we voted for the resolution, evoking the spirit of our cooperation with the United States, and our hopes for peace."

"Today's great victory was important to Austria," said its ambassador, Friedrich Hoess, "because Austria joins the Security Council next year." He said he hoped the vote would lead to a peaceful settlement. But he threw up his hands when asked if Iraq would be out by the Jan. 15 deadline.

State Department Deputy Secretary Lawrence S. Eagleburger gave the principal address of the evening, saying that Baker and the president "are writing a proud new chapter in the diplomatic annals of the U.S. by taking the lead in helping the world to forge a democratic and humane order in the wake of the Cold War. ... Justice must be our guide. And that is why we and the unprecedented coalition of nations we have helped to assemble are going to prevail."

Eagleburger cheered the contributions of the 200 or so guests ($1,500 a ticket) last night and the others who had given money to remodel the principal offices (Conger said $200,000 had been donated in the past year). He poked fun at himself, saying his office suite is in taste "more akin to James Monroe, the man whose memory we honor tonight. The first thing that a visiting dignitary does upon entering my humble surroundings is to prostrate himself at my feet and attempt to kiss my ring. This state of beatitude usually lasts until the moment the dignitary sits down on the elegant visitor's couch, which I suspect is made of granite. Needless to say, the meetings tend to be on the short side, and for this, Clem, I am eternally grateful."

The guests ate their way through the Design Cuisine version of four courses like those President Monroe and his wife, Elizabeth, served in the White House, beginning with deviled quail egg hors-d'oeuvres and going on to lobster pie, roast pheasant and spiced apple charlotte, with wines and champagne to match. Albert H. and Shirley Small, Hermen and Monica Ann Greenberg, and Stanley Woodward, supporters of the Diplomatic Room collections, paid for the dinner.

Memories of another military action -- the American Revolution -- were called up last night as guests entered through two lines of musicians playing tunes of the period on fife and drum. In the place of honor in the hall was the original painting of the "Spirit of '76" by Archibald M. Willard, which is being given to the State Department Fine Arts Collection by Gerald E. Czulewicz, a Minneapolis entrepreneur and antiques collector who has owned the painting for 25 years. Czulewicz said at the dinner that he also had the largest collection of Uncle Sam objects.

Eagleburger offered a last thought for the evening. To the old saying about the only certainties in life being death and taxes, he added, "and Clem Conger's annual donors' dinner."