WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton turned on the charm at his news conference Thursday night, marveling over one newsman's Mickey Mouse tie and giving a waiter with a glass of water his moment on national television.

Clinton, ebullient for his first prime-time news conference, showed his playful nature when he caught sight of the Mickey Mouse tie on a a reporter in the front row.

When the reporter hit Clinton with a question about health care, the president shot back: ''That's a great tie. I just lost it for a moment there. I wish the American people could see this tie.''

He interrupted the news conference again as a tuxedoed waiter stood nervously off to the side waiting to discretely slip the president a glass of water.

''Is he trying to give me some water?'' Clinton asked. Then he confided to viewers, ''He always wanted to be on television. I hope his mother's watching.''

For the White House, it was clearly frustrating that so few Americans got to see Clinton's commanding performance. Of the four major networks, only NBC and CNN carried it live, with NBC cutting out halfway through.

''We're really disappointed,'' said adviser George Stephanopoulos.

The president confidently fielded questions on everything from Bosnia and Somalia to health care and welfare reform and seemed not the least bit embarrassed when he caught unprepared for one question.

When a reporter asked what Clinton would do restore relations with New Zealand that had been frayed because of its anti-nuclear policy, Clinton responded:

''I've given absolutely no thought to that question. I'm afraid if I give an answer to it, I'll be in more trouble tomorrow than I can figure out.''

Clinton, riding high after a series of congressional victories this week, opened his performance with a brief economic tutorial complete with Ross Perot style charts and graphs.

At one point, pointing to a line depicting projected deficit growth absent his economic plan, Clinton said, ''I just got here and I may have a lot to learn, but I didn't create the red line.''

When it was over, Reuters reporter Gene Gibbons presented his tie to Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, who sent it up the chain of command.

Clinton promptly put it on and came back to show it off.

Then he hopped in a limousine and headed out for an evening on the town.