The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and New York Times lead with President Bush’s five-hour meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah at the presidential ranch. The crown prince delivered a “sharp-edged” message (LAT) to Bush, saying that the United States must do more to stop the Israeli military offensive. Otherwise, the U.S. will face grave consequences, including the further erosion of U.S. credibility and increased instability in the Arab world. The top story in the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox is a roundup of developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The WSJ story and the other papers say nine Palestinian young men left the besieged Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem bearing the bodies of the two men who had been killed. USA Today’s lead follows up on news the WP broke yesterday: U.S. special forces are chasing down al-Qaida in Pakistan. Unlike the WP report, USAT doesn’t say that U.S. forces have already engaged in fights. Instead, it says that troops have just received permission from Pakistan to operate there. The story adds that British and Australian troops and CIA paramilitary units are helping out.
The NYT and LAT headlines announce that the Saudi prince warned Bush to lay off support for Israel’s policies, while the WP goes with a rosier interpretation: “BUSH, ABDULLAH AGREE ON QUEST FOR PEACE.” It turns out the leaders agreed that peace should be based on a Palestinian state but didn’t get any further on how to go about achieving such a peace. The coverage notes that Bush and a Saudi official both denied a report in yesterday’s NYT that said the Saudis were threatening to cut off U.S. oil supplies. The White House said the meetings were warm, and everyone highlights Bush’s assertion that he formed a “strong personal bond” with the crown prince. Saudi officials gave the papers the impression that the discussions were less pleasant, but the prince could not have been too displeased. Yesterday’s NYT said that if the prince were dissatisfied with the meeting, he would consider ending his U.S. visit early instead of staying until Saturday, and today’s WP reports that he will indeed stay in Texas through Saturday.
Everyone reports that according to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a military court held inside his compound tried and convicted four men wanted in the killing of the Israeli tourism minister. Each received between one and 18 years in prison. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has demanded that these men surrender before he ends his siege of Arafat’s headquarters, and he scoffed at this attempt by Arafat to placate him.
Israeli forces entered Qalqilya on the West Bank and detained 13 Palestinians today, according to a wire report on the NYT’s Web site.
The WP reports that it has dug up more evidence of the “depth of divisions” between diplomacy-first Secretary of State Powell and the more military-solution-oriented Pentagon camp of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz. On Middle East peace, Powell’s pro-diplomacy views are losing out to the Pentagon’s belief that Sharon is conducting a legitimate war on terrorism. Without giving many specifics, the paper cites State Department officials to report that U.S. policy is “paralyzed” because the administration has not been willing to “stand behind” Powell’s efforts to get Sharon to pull out of the West Bank and talk to the Palestinians.
A day after Bush said he would support the idea, the House passed a bill to abolish the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the papers report. The vote was 405-9. The bill would create two new agencies, one for dealing with immigration services and one for enforcing immigration laws.
Everyone reports that the Senate approved 88-11 an energy bill that focuses on conservation and using renewable fuel but drops many of Bush’s plans for domestic oil production.
The NYT fronts news that young Egyptians, lured by thoughts of martyrdom, are attempting to cross into Israel ostensibly to carry out attacks, if the young man who recently bypassed border security warning, “I will blow myself up” is representative. In the last month, Egyptian officials, who say they don’t want to further inflame the conflict, have stopped these men and women at a rate of several per day. The paper reports that according to Israeli security there haven’t been many other Arab nationals who’ve made it into the country, but there’s no word on whether similarly minded young Jordanians, Syrians, or Lebanese are being turned back by their own country’s officials.
The WSJ reports that Saddam Hussein is throwing himself an extravagant birthday celebration this weekend as part of a PR offensive against the West. Among the invited are dignitaries and Western journalists. Attendees, after walking down Iraqi airport jetways with “Down USA” slogans etched in them, will be treated to tours of a museum dedicated to the “Victorious Leader” and hospitals where Iraqis say they are treating radiation victims from the Gulf War. The highlight will be a play based on the novel Zabibah and the King, an allegorical condemnation of the Gulf War that Saddam is thought to have written.