The top story in the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox, and the lead at the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times is Secretary of State Powell’s announcement that the United States is planning a Middle East peace conference for this summer. Up for discussion will be not only a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also how to curb Arab militants in the region and how to improve the economic situation of the Palestinians, the WP says. The conference will also try to restart peace talks between Israel and Syria and Lebanon, which haven’t gone anywhere for a while, the Post reports. A large portion of the world will be there. The U.S., E.U., U.N., and Russia are co-hosting, and major Middle Eastern countries are invited. Specifics such as date, location, and concrete goals for the conference remain vague.
USA Today leads with word that the State Department cut off funds for the Iraqi National Congress, an Iraqi opposition group favored by some in Vice President Cheney’s office. Such conflict within the administration over which opposition groups deserve backing is hindering U.S. Iraq policy. The paper says that President Bush would prefer to use an Afghanistan strategy in Iraq and have the U.S. military help local opposition forces overthrow Saddam. However, bickering among his advisers about who should lead those opposition forces has made this strategy less likely to work, the paper argues, so Bush will likely need to go with a U.S. invasion instead. Sunday’s NYT said, though, that the administration is leaning toward an invasion because “using local forces there would be insufficient to bring a change in power.”
Foreign ministers, not heads of state, will likely attend the summer peace conference, everyone notes. This way, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon won’t have to meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, which he has refused to do. The NYT and WP got the impression from administration officials that the conference will be more of a brainstorming session that will not necessarily produce a definitive solution for the Middle East. The LAT reports that many Arabs would prefer to go for a final settlement at this conference.
The NYT previews what the Israelis might bring to a negotiating table. One of Sharon’s political advisers said that during his U.S. visit next week, the prime minister would present Bush with “specific and detailed proposals” that “could include short-term territorial concessions,” if the Palestinians stopped the violence.
In what the NYT reads as challenges to both the Israelis and Palestinians, Bush said yesterday that “a Palestinian state must be achieved by negotiating an end to occupation” but that such a state “cannot be based on a foundation of terror or corruption.”
Everyone reports that despite White House objections, the House and Senate both overwhelmingly passed tough resolutions in support of Israel’s military operations. The NYT reminds that powerful constituencies such as Jewish Democrats and Christian conservatives are very much pro-Israel. The WP calls the move symbolic. The NYT says that now Bush could have a harder time getting Sharon to stand down.
Everyone reports that on his first day of release from his compound, Arafat flashed a “V” sign—for victory, the papers guess—and toured the destruction at schools and hospitals in Ramallah. Meanwhile, Israeli troops killed one man and injured two more at the Church of the Nativity because the men had guns, the soldiers claimed. Peace activists have now showed up at this standoff and have entered the church bearing food. Little progress was made in negotiating an end to the stalemate.
The NYT fronts Sharon’s assertion that captured, interrogated Palestinian leaders have implicated Arafat in the financing of terrorist attacks. The story’s opening paragraphs offer the caveat that Israel didn’t link Arafat to any specific terrorist attack nor did it produce any supporting documentation to back its claims.
The papers say that Human Rights Watch is the latest human rights group to find that there is no evidence of a massacre at Jenin. It did say, though, the Israeli army violated the laws of war by, among other offenses, destroying more houses than necessary.
The papers report that the Senate and House introduced legislation to give Homeland Security Adviser Tom Ridge some clout by creating a Cabinet-level department to back him.
Everyone goes inside with news that Rev. Paul Shanley, a former Boston priest accused of molesting at least 26 boys, was arrested in San Diego.
The WSJ fronts an investigative report on napkins. In an effort to cut costs and defend against napkin-wasters, fast food restaurants are hiding paper napkins and using specially designed dispensers that don’t let you grab more than a few napkins at once. Restaurants regulate napkins at their own peril: According to a consumer research group, napkins at these places account for up to 20 percent of customer satisfaction scores.