Today's Papers

Anxious Allies

Everybody leads with Iraq. The Washington Post leads with word that U.N. inspectors meeting with Iraqi officials did not get their top demands met.  USA Today and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox, playing catch-up, lead with the outline of a plan floated by France and Germany for more inspectors to head in and for U.N. troops to back them up. The Journal emphasizes that the plan, which is still murky and hasn’t been formally unveiled, seems to have won Russian support. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times both go high with the White House’s complete dismissal of the proposal. “What are these blue-helmeted U.N. forces going to do?” asked Secretary of State Powell. “Shoot their way into Iraqi compounds?”

While the Post’s lead sees the inspectors’ meeting with Iraqi officials as a bust—”U.N. INSPECTORS FAIL TO WIN KEY IRAQ CONCESSIONS”—some of the other papers disagree. According to USAT, “U.N. INSPECTORS DESCRIBE ‘CHANGE OF HEART’ BY IRAQIS.” The Post feels more on target: While some of the papers play up the mushy messages from inspectors Blix and ElBaradei—ElBaradei referred to “hopefully thebeginnings of a change of heart”—the WP nicely skips past the talking points and emphasizes what actually happened: Nothing. The Iraqis didn’t deliver. They handed over some documents about old weapons programs, but Blix said the papers didn’t seem to contain any new info. Nor did they agree on U-2 overflights; they say they’re still thinking about it.

The NYT plays down the apparent French-German proposal, saying there is “some confusion” about how far along it is and whether it will be actually proposed as a U.N. resolution. Whatever the case, everybody mentions that the White House is seriously ticked that it first heard about the plan on television.

The NYT plays up Powell’s statement that if Hans Blix’s report this Friday says that Iraq still isn’t fully cooperating, “then the Security Council will have to sit in session immediately and determine what should happen next.”

The Post fronts Belgium’s announcement that it, along with France, will veto a U.S. request for NATO to provide military aid to Turkey. Turkey wanted the aid to help prepare itself for potential retaliation from Iraq in the event of an invasion. The papersays that in response, Turkey will probably invoke NATO’s never-used Article 4, under which a country can claim self-defense and push member states to help with its defense. Powell called Belgium’s decision “inexcusable.”

A front-page piece in the NYT airs doubts about Powell’s allegations that Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi is a linchpin connecting al-Qaida and Saddam. The article cites various people, including some U.S. officials, as saying that Zarqawi is a nasty guy involved with terrorism but that he doesn’t seem to be tight with either AQ or with Saddam. “It is possible that [Powell] knows things that we don’t,” said one German official who has been investigating Zarqawi for a year. “But as of yet we have seen no indication of a direct link between Zarqawi and Baghdad.” The uncertainty about Zarqawi’s connections also gota brief mention in yesterday’s NYT. There was also a more detailed article about it in the U.K. Observer. (B.Y.O. salt: It’s an opinion piece. Also, well … it’s a British paper.)

The NYT, alone among the papers, fronts word that Ansar al-Islam guerrillas, who the administration says have connections to AQ, assassinated a top Kurdish official yesterday.

The WP fronts a tick-tock on a battle last month in the Gaza Strip that left 13 Palestinians dead and no Israeli soldiers injured. The article is sure to anger some people. It portrays Palestinian fighters as outgunned underdogs,“urban guerrillas armed with assault rifles and homemade explosives battling a military partially financed with U.S. money and equipped with some of the most lethal fighting machines in the world.” But, vague little-guy worship aside, the piece strikes TP as essentially fair. It is mostly told from the Palestinian perspective, but there’s nothing wrong with that. (Indeed, it doesn’t happen enough.) And it does give the Israeli soldiers’ P.O.V. (One issue: While the article takes pains to emphasize that many Palestinians killed have been bystanders, it doesn’t do the same for Israelis, saying that many settlers have died in “war-related violence.” What exactly might that be?)

A somewhat surprising NYT editorial  takes note of the 24th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution and says it has gone on “to oppress its young, disillusion its middle-aged veterans and silence even grand ayatollahs who question its course.”

A piece on the front page of yesterday’s NYT business section had an interesting update on the outcry over how former Enron CEO Ken Lay sold his company stock at the same time that he was telling employees to snatch it up. According to Sunday’s Times, the allegations of hypocrisy are probably bunk. The paper flipped through Lay’s personal records and found support for his contention that he was forced to sell Enron shares in order to cover other stock losses. Today’s article does a half mea culpa, saying the new information “differs sharply from the story put forward early last year, after many news organizations, including The New York Times, reported that Mr. Lay had sold large numbers of shares as he urged others to buy. Many people seized on those facts as evidence of duplicity, not accounting for other possible explanations.” Gee, might those “many people” include some at the NYT?

Yesterday’s “Style Invitational” contest in the Post (a weekly feature) asked readers to dream up some “creative new questions about life.” One response: “Why did they name Ramses condoms after the pharaoh who fathered 100 children?”