Today's Papers

Baked Zinni

The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and the  Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox all lead with a grenade attack in a church in Pakistan that killed five people, including two Americans, and injured 45, at least 10 of them Americans. Everybody notes that the church is located only a few hundred yards from the U.S. Embassy. The two Americans killed were a mother, who worked at the embassy, and her teen-age daughter. USA Today’s lead says that the Energy Department is going to restart research on bunker-busting mini-nukes next month. The paper also says that the Bush administration is planning to shorten the lead time it will take to restart nuclear tests. The New York Times leads with word that President Bush has invited Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to hang out with him at the presidential ranch in Texas. The paper interprets the move as “the latest indication of the deepening American involvement” in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.  

The NYT lead’s subhead declares, “Focus Shifts from Iraq.” The paper waits until the 23rd  paragraph, though, to make the unsurprising but important point that the Texas getaway, planned for some point in the spring, will likely have a dual agenda: 1) The Palestinian-Israeli conflict; 2) As the Times says, “The American campaign against terrorism—in part a euphemism for possible action against Iraq.”

No group claimed responsibility for the attack at the church, though everybody notes that Islamic militants were widely expected to retaliate for Pakistani President Musharraf’s campaign against them. Yesterday’s NYT stuffed an article saying that Pakistani militants were “regrouping” and had begun a terror campaign in which at least 13 people had been murdered in the past two months. The papers mostly skip over this context.

USAT’s headline on the new nuke reads: NUCLEAR ARSENAL UPGRADE PLANNED. Given that it’s been widely reported that the U.S. is revising its nukes strategy, the headline could have been more specific, something like: U.S. RESTARTING MINI-NUKE PROGRAM.

A related USAT article, teased on the front page, says that the U.S.’ nuclear labs are suffering from “a decade of neglect.” Yet according to the story’s 12th paragraph, the Clinton “administration funded a raft of science projects, from the largest laser in the world at Lawrence Livermore to pricey non-nuclear explosives facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratory.” That’s neglect?

The same article has a photo of a bunker in Afghanistan packed with artillery shells. The caption reads: “An anti-Taliban soldier inspects a bunker. Some bunkers may have been used for making nuclear or chemical arms.” Sure, they might have been used for that. But as the NYT headlined last month, U.S. ANALYSTS FIND NO SIGN THAT BIN LADEN HAD NUCLEAR ARMS.

Everybody notes that as U.S. peace envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni continues trying to broker a cease-fire, violence increased again in Israel and the West Bank, though not at anywhere near the level of early last week. Yesterday one Palestinian opened fire on a street in northern Israel, killing a teen-age girl. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for that attack. Another Palestinian blew himself up next to a bus, only slightly injuring some of passengers. Islamic Jihad said it carried out that one. Meanwhile, Israeli tanks returned to the center of Bethlehem yesterday and killed a Palestinian gunman.

The NYT headlines, HOPES RISE FOR A MIDDLE EAST TRUCE, DESPITE ATTACKS. The WP is less optimistic. It headlines, STRIFE OVERSHADOWS DIPLOMACY. Usually when the papers disagree like that, it’s simply a question of differing perceptions. But in this case, the NYT suggests it has the skinny. The paper reports that there’s “a strong possibility” that a cease-fire will be announced today. U.S. pressure to do so will be high, especially since Vice President Dick Cheney is expected to arrive today.

The NYT, meanwhile, stuffs an astute “news analysis” arguing that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has the negotiating advantage now and can afford to wait for a good offer before he declares a cease-fire: “Israeli support for Mr. Sharon is sinking and backing for diplomacy is rising, while Mr. Arafat is under pressure from Palestinians to continue the fight.”

The NYT fronts word that the U.S. is preparing to launch military offensives against other pockets of al-Qaida in Afghanistan. The WP led with this yesterday. But the NYT adds that some American commanders now believe that “many of the perhaps 1,000 fighters once thought to be surrounded during the battle in Shah-i-Kot may have slipped away as the battle ended.”

“We will continue to look for, find and destroy them,” said an Army spokesperson. “The hunt continues. The war in Afghanistan continues.”

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