Today's Papers

The Missile Dismissal

The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post all lead with Iraq’s stated intentions to destroy its stock of more than 120 Al-Samoud-2 surface-to-surface missiles, whose range capabilities are said to exceed limitations imposed by U.N. resolutions. Two days short of a U.N. deadline ordering the nation to do so, Iraqi presidential adviser Gen. Amir Saadi sent a letter to Hans Blix agreeing “in principle” to the missile destruction. USA Today covers the disarmament development at the end of its lead story but emphasizes comments President Bush made in an interview with the paper yesterday about the imminence of war. “My attitude about Saddam Hussein is that if he had any intention of disarming, he would have disarmed,” Bush said. He added later: “We will disarm him now.”

The WP and the LAT say the agreement letter came with the qualification that Iraq wanted a meeting before missile disarmament could proceed. The WP says Iraq “demanded that U.N. weapons inspectors first begin talks in Baghdad over how and when they will be dismantled” [emphasis added]. According to all reported excerpts from the letter, this is what Saadi actually wrote: “In order to establish a framework and timetable and other technical and procedural criteria required for implementation, we suggest dispatching a technical team urgently for this purpose.”

The WP is the only paper to connect Iraq’s latest intentions to the CBS News interview with Saddam Hussein earlier this week. The paper writes, “The statement from Baghdad indicates that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is prepared to back away from his assertion, made in an interview with CBS News broadcast this week, that he saw no need to destroy any missiles because none violates U.N. restrictions.” As Timothy Noah noted in Slateyesterday, Saddam indeed denied that none of his missiles violated U.N. restrictions, but never gave any indication that he would refuse to destroy them. 

The papers note that Saadi, in his letter, called the original destruction order “unjust,” with “political aims.” The LAT does a good job recapping the controversy, saying that weapons inspectors aren’t concerned merely with missiles going 20 miles farther than allowed (which Iraq says wouldn’t happen when they’re weighed down by fuel, a full payload, and a guidance system), but also with the fact that Iraq has expanded the diameter of the missiles from 750 millimeters to 760 millimeters (more than the U.N. limit of 600 millimeters). Officials believe this expansion could accommodate engines that would double or triple the missile’s range.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to lobby U.N. Security Council members for support for its resolution against Iraq. President Bush spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone for 17 minutes yesterday. The two leaders disagreed on giving inspectors more time in Iraq, but according to the NYT, a senior administration official said Russia showed flexibility. The paper also cites an administration official as saying that Colin Powell believes the three African members of the Security Council—Angola, Guinea, and Cameroon—will vote Washington’s way. On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal reads into the “four-kiss farewell” that French President Jacques Chirac gave Cameroon President Paul Biya last week an indication of the good relationship between the two countries. The paper asks: “Could a kiss decide the fate of Iraq, or will consensus on war hang on the sweetness of a plum tart?” (Plum tart is the desert that Biya shared with President Bush at a U.N. luncheon in September.)

Also in the NYT story, the paper reveals that the British ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock,  revealed in a closed council session fresh intelligence that Iraq has continued to manufacture poison nerve gases and mustard gas.

The NYT also fronts the verbal joust that took place on Capitol Hill yesterday, when Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz disputed the recent estimate by Army Gen. Eric Shinseki that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in postwar Iraq. The estimate is “wildly off the mark,” he said. Wolfowitz also said that the cost of Iraqi war and reconstruction efforts, previously estimated at $60 billion to $95 billion, could not be accurately predicted “until we get there on the ground.” The remarks infuriated some Democrats, the paper says. “I think you’re deliberately keeping us in the dark,” said Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va. “We’re not so naïve as to think that you don’t know more than you’re revealing.”

The LAT and the WP front, and the rest of the papers reefer, news that the FBI has lowered the nation’s terrorism alert status one notch on the five-color scale, from orange (“high risk”) to yellow (“low risk”). Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, in a joint statement, however, issued caution that the color downgrade is not a signal that the terrorist threat has passed. All the papers headline the fact that country is now at yellow, except for the LAT, which goes with the pessimistic: “FBI WARNS OF ATTACKS SET OFF BY IRAQ WAR.”

The NYT and USAT front news that Daniel Libeskind’s designs for the World Trade Center site won out against the proposal by the THINK architectural team. The NYT, whose architecture critic had advocated THINK’s proposal, says the decision was about “politics, economics and engineering,” not about “architecture … solemn memorial pits or soaring gardens in the sky.” The paper briefly mentions the other theory about why Libeskind won: His plan was popular. What did Libeskind actually win yesterday?  The answer is uncertain, says the WP.

The WP fronts news that Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., has officially become the ninth Democrat to join the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The paper says Graham brings one of the best-rounded résumés in politics, but his bid may be hampered by his “late start” and his recuperation from major heart surgery.

All the papers front, or reefer, the death of Fred Rogers, host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, at the age of 74 from stomach cancer. Everybody lauds Mr. Rogers as a pioneer of children’s educational television. Less noted, however, is his consistent embrace of new technologies. Mr. Rogers not only started his TV program at a small station in 1954 and hosted a national show on public television from 1968-2001, he was also a public advocate of the VCR during the appliance’s contentious early days. (In the famed Sony Betamax case, allowing the use of the VCR, the Supreme Court actually cited Rogers’ testimony.) After he ended production on his famed show, he began experiments in storytelling via Web streaming and satellite-radio. Fittingly, on his Web site today, there are “helpful hints” for how parents should help their children deal with the news of his death.