The New York Times leads with word from unnamed senior American officials that U.S. intelligence now indicates that Pakistan was a major supplier in North Korea’s clandestine nuclear weapons program. USA Todayalso leads with U.S. intelligence circles saying that the Bush administration believes that North Korea could be less than a year away from being able to mass-produce nuclear weapons. The Washington Post leads with CIA Director George J. Tenet’s comments to a congressional panel yesterday that recent al-Qaida activity abroad indicates an increasing threat from the group, to a danger level similar to that which was posed just prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. The Los Angeles Times leads with the first criminal conviction in the 2000-2001 California energy crisis, as former Enron chief energy trader for the West, Timothy Belden, pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge.
North Korea’s admission that is has a secret nuclear weapons program leads the papers into a guessing game on why the Bush administration waited so long to disclose its knowledge of the program, how the admission will affect the president’s confrontation with Iraq, and what motivations led North Korea to cop to its program in the first place. Such speculations top the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox and the LAT front page. The WSJ offers the theory that North Korea’s admission could be an attempt at “confessional diplomacy,” (USAT calls it “judo diplomacy”) a negotiating ploy to open the U.S. up to a wider dialogue, and possibly greater economic and political concessions. The LAT offers a host of motivations, from the fear factor that North Korea might be next on the “Axis of Evil” hit list to what the paper attributes as the “characteristically clumsy North Korean way of coming clean.”
The ploy theory is knocked somewhat by the NYT lead, which says that a crucial trade between North Korea and Pakistan happened sometime around 1997, when North Korea gave Pakistan missiles to use against India in exchange for nuclear weapons equipment, including gas centrifuges used to create weapons-grade uranium. The paper notes that this would place the trade two years before Pakistan’s Gen. Pervez Musharraf came to power, but the paper also says that the commercial relationship between the two countries continued after Musharraf took the presidency, including “some evidence” that it continued after Sept. 11 of last year. A spokesperson for the Pakistan Embassy calls accusations that Pakistan supplied North Korea with nuclear weapons technology “absolutely incorrect.”
The papers also note that the Bush administration right now is stressing diplomacy as the proper way to handle North Korea, though the WSJ adds, “The administration’s sense of urgency may have been somewhat tempered by the knowledge that North Korea already has enough plutonium to produce one or two nuclear weapons—and may have already built them.”
As for Iraq, White House officials are already spelling out what makes Baghdad different from Pyongyang. The NYT quotes National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as saying on ABC’s Nightline that “Saddam Hussein is in a category by himself, as still the only leader to have actually used a weapon of mass destruction against his own people, against his neighbors.”
While the rest of the papers go high with Tenet’s dramatic warnings yesterday about al-Qaida’s renewed threat to the homeland and go lower with congressional banter back at Tenet about whether the CIA has been doing enough to foil terrorism, the LAT focuses itself on a different element in his speech: The CIA director for the first time publicly divulged the plan known as “the Plan,” a CIA operational measure of attack conceived in 1999—including greater use of informants and spies—to “capture and bring to justice Bin Laden and his principal lieutenants.” Although Bin Laden hasn’t been captured, Tenet says “the Plan” helped thwart three separate waves of attacks by Bin Laden followers, including the use of chemical weapons, hijackings, kidnappings, and bombings of hotels, airports, buses, and other targets.
The WSJ goes high in its world-wide newsbox about two explosions in a busy shopping district in the Philippines, killing at least six people and wounding more than 140. Though the paper quotes a Philippine military spokesperson as saying that “all threat groups are suspect in this incident, including the Jemaah Islamiyah,” the Indonesia-based militant group with ties to al-Qaida, the paper’s lead says the military is “blaming” Muslim extremists.
The papers all front word that the Vatican is opposing many of the zero-tolerance rules that U.S. bishops set up last June in response to the sexual-abuse scandals. In a 2-page letter handed by Pope John Paul II to three top Roman Catholic leaders in the U.S., to be made public today, the Vatican is withholding its seal of approval, but according to the WP, a church official says the Vatican is suggesting a joint commission to bring the rules in line with church law.
The WP goes inside with a story that a federal judge ordered lawyers representing Vice President Dick Cheney to turn over National Energy Policy Development Group papers for the second time. The judge said that the Bush administration has until Nov. 5 to do so, and if it doesn’t, they “must submit a claim of executive privilege and the reasons for it.”
Madonna may be getting savaged for her role as a wealthy American socialite stranded on a Greek island with an Italian fisherman with a big fishing rod in Swept Away, a movie whose box office registered a dismal $375,000 in its opening weekend, but USAT is already predicting the latest comeback for the Material Girl. The paper says that Madonna’s theme song for the new James Bond flick, Die Another Day, is one of the most requested songs on Top 40 radio right now, and if it were to hit No.1 on the charts, it would be only the second Bond song to do so. The first and only song to have achieved this? “View to a Kill” by Duran Duran.