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At The White House: February 22

Return to Showdown in the Gulf
The Clinton administration is hopeful that a real deal has been brokered--one that meets U.S. specifications. But officials remain carefully skeptical and publicly silent until they get a formal, official briefing.

Here's how the information from Baghdad will get to President Clinton:

The U.N. Secretary General is expected to brief the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson. Richardson will then brief Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who will then likely be the one to brief President Clinton. But sources say that won't happen Sunday.

Earlier, President Clinton refused to tip his hand on rumors of a possible "breakthrough." He continued his coalition-building work with allies.

Key administration officials warned against too much optimism in the talks in Baghdad.

"We have to be very cautious in not having unrealistic expectations or get so anxious over the "breakthrough" that we omit to look at the details of the proposal," Defense Secretary William Cohen said.

When word came out of an agreement, a White House spokesman only told reporters that nothing had changed from the skeptical stance Clinton administration officials voiced hours before.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has made it clear that the U.S. will go forward with military action if it's unhappy with the deal.

"It is possible that he will come with something we don't like, in which case we will pursue our national interest."

A crucial point is that no matter what this agreement says on paper, U.S. officials have said that the real test will come when U.N. inspectors try to go back in and demand access to a suspected weapons site.

Officials are wondering whether Saddam Hussein will keep his latest promise, or whether the U.S. once again will have to threaten war.

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