Today's Papers

Barak on Track

Breaking stories in the Middle East, Indonesia, and Washington push softer Sunday stories to the margins. All three papers lead with the signing of the Israeli-PLO accord at an Egyptian Red Sea resort. Officials hope the agreement will develop into the framework for a peace treaty early next year. The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times front accounts of increased violence in East Timor by anti-independence militias. Both the New York Times, which rewrote almost its entire front page between editions, and the WP front Hillary Clinton’s statement encouraging the president to take back his offer of clemency to 16 Puerto Rican terrorists.

Israel will transfer to Palestinians full or partial control of 40 percent of the West Bank in three stages–Sept. 13, Nov. 15, and Jan. 20.  Negotiators will try to hammer out a plan for a permanent peace treaty by Feb. 15, although officials on both sides (including Arafat in his speech) said that will be a tough deadline to meet. The new agreement also addresses a water dispute and calls for Israel to release 350 Palestinian refugees. Coverage of the ceremony in the two Times eclipses Albright’s stop in Damascus, where she could not resuscitate talks between Israel and Syria. The latter wants the border redrawn to its position on June 4, 1967, before Israel captured the Golan Heights. The NYT notes Israel’s insistence on the 1923 boundary, which does not reach the Sea of Galilee. This point, bumped to an inside story for the late edition, could have used further clarification, since Israel did not exist until 1948.  The 1923 border was acknowledged internationally after the League of Nations 1922 Mandate for Palestine authorized Britain to set up a Jewish homeland west of the Jordan River.

Anti-independence militias in East Timor terrorized rural towns yesterday after voting showed that nearly 80 percent of East Timorese favor independence from Indonesia. Thousands of people rushed to Dili’s airport and dock hoping to flee.  The Indonesian army did little or nothing to stop the militias, and the government has not made any guarantees to foreign authorities that it will act.  The LAT emphasizes that the campaign has “no logical political objective,” but the WP suggests militia leaders may be trying to sweep out an anti-independence sector in the west. Foreign troops would most likely come from Australia at first: “It’s their Haiti,” a U.S. diplomat told the Post. A full-page spread in the  NYT “Week in Review” summarizes the Indonesian national dilemma: how to hold 13,000 islands together.

German police in Hamburg arrested Martin Frankel, the “nebbishy” (WP) financier accused of stealing about $350 million from at least half a dozen insurance companies.  Frankel had eluded international investigation for four months, and it will be several months more before he is extradited.

Hillary Clinton said the president should drop his Aug. 11 decision to offer clemency to 16 Puerto Rican terrorists because they have not renounced further violence. Her criticism, and that of legislators, prominent New York office-holders, and top law-enforcement officials, has forced the White House to reconsider its stance, the WP and NYT report. Consequently, the administration gave the prisoners until 5 p.m. Friday to accept the president’s gesture, which includes restrictions on their travel and political activity. The WP, more than the NYT, suggests that the story is really about the developing fissure between White House business and the first lady’s need to maintain political independence for her Senate bid.

Russia’s on-again, off-again prosecutor, Yuri Skuratov, told the LAT that 780 current and former government officials are under investigation for illegally trading government securities that were suspicious to begin with. Skuratov said top officials, acting on inside information (not a directly punishable offense), yanked cash out of treasury bills before the ruble’s collapse last August and then sent it abroad. A sure sign that something is amiss: Government officials who made less than $10,000 a year had invested more than $200,000 in the securities. The NYT “Money & Business” section profiles Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose companies are being investigated in relation to the Bank of New York money-laundering operation.

The NYT off-lead reports that some medical ethicists and consumer watchdogs are faulting former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop with blending public service and commercial interests on his company’s Web site,  In recent weeks, this criticism has already led the company to drop the part of Koop’s contract that allowed him to receive a percentage of the money brought in by products and services sold through the site. Critics also charge that the site sometimes fails to distinguish between its advertising and the products and services that it describes. Koop says he’s not in it for the money.

Two columnists walk into a bar … Two NYT celebrity columnists prove that the anecdotal is “in.”  Thomas Friedman, writing about Taiwan’s need to recognize its sometimes subtle commercial dependence on China, starts out,  “So I was having lunch the other day with a group of Taiwanese news editors …”  Maureen Dowd, ostensibly reviewing the new $785 million Paris-themed hotel and casino in Las Vegas, writes,  “I’m strolling down a cobblestone street, beneath a cloud-speckled Paris sky.”  One way or another, each draws attention to the oddities (Dowd) or pitfalls (Friedman) of the global economy.