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Acting Presidential

Two things. One: brilliant. That's the word to describe Friday's news conference held by President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. However, when one thinks about the President and Blair, their performance together was a tour de force, from both of their standpoints.

Number two: there are signs around, in Washington, New York and Baghdad that Saddam Hussein may, just may, have started to blink. Such things are difficult to ascertain with any certainty, and Saddam is such a crafty, cunning, and diabolical survivor, that it is almost hard to figure out what he is up to at any given time.

With the United States and Britain poised to unload on Iraq sometime in the latter half of this month, at least a few signs are beginning to appear that Saddam could be on the verge of caving.

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We shall see. The hours and days between now and about February l5 are crucial in this regard. Last minute offers and counteroffers are, behind the scenes, coming fast and furious now. With Moscow, Paris and the United Nations all involved.

It would be easy, too easy, for the press to concentrate overly on President Clinton's real and serious problems in the Monica Lewinsky affair, and not concentrate enough on the war-and-peace issues involving Iraq.

That is part of the context in which today's news conference must be viewed. President Clinton and Prime Minister Blair effectively came off as addressing the world's big problems in a business-like wayÂ…while the press came off, by and large, as low-rent and focusing on the tawdry.

President Clinton's strategy was, at that news confernce and continues to be, to emphasize the contrast. Part of the strategy is to scapegoat the press along with special prosecutor Kenneth Starr.

Starr is on the defensive, big time. Has been for a number of days. And the leak of grand jury testimony making newspaper headlines today makes him even more so.

Allegedly, supposedly and reportedly somebody has been leaking grand jury testimony, and quite a lot of it, to the New York TimesÂ…about what the President's personal secretary has been testifying.

IF that is true, Starr and his operation would be prime suspect. But we should note: Starr's operation is not the only place from which such leaks could come.

Such leaks can be illegal, a crime. Starr's clearly worried,and he ought to be.

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