Today's Papers

Six Decrees of Separation

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Everybody leads once again today with one of two angles on the increasingly frantic Security Council negotiations, which the U.S. intends to bring to a vote by Friday, or Monday at the latest, or who knows, really? The New York Times and the Washington Postcarry headlines on unflagging U.S. efforts to get the majority nine votes. USA Today and the Los Angeles Timesgive the details of Britain’s compromise plan to allow Saddam and the weapons inspectors a brief extension, with six specific benchmarks for Iraq to meet.

There is extensive, ambiguous, and conflicting coverage on the intrigues surrounding the council vote. The NYT describes the status of the six undecided votes as “increasingly unclear” and mentions a Bush administration source who claims that Guinea’s president has already agreed once and changed his mind. Undeterred, American officials continue to play policy hardball: Bush has cleared his schedule for the ongoing head-of-state telethon, and the American ambassador to Russia dropped heavy hints that a failure to cooperate could cost them Iraqi oil after the war.

Reversing yesterday’s pessimism, everybody thinks the continued chaos could be good news. With the U.S. claiming it’s in “close range” of a majority, the WP names Chile and Mexico as the last holdouts of the six fence-sitters. The LAT puts the tally at eight votes, claiming that Mexico “appears to be more flexible” and leaves Chile, well, out in the cold. To further muddy the roiling waters, the Wall Street Journal claims Pakistan has privately assured the U.S. of its eventual vote, even though their ambassador is a model of caution, saying, “We will take a decision at the final moments when we know what we have to vote upon.”

Britain’s compromise proposal, intended to provide six easy steps out of war, is itself a source of some confusion. The simple checklist, clearly bulleted on the front page of USAT, calls for the complete destruction of illegal weapons and equipment, interviews with Iraqi scientists, and a televised apology from Saddam Hussein. The WP says the British diplomats are hampered by a U.S. refusal to publicly commit itself to their plan. The LAT has good detail on the friction between Washington and London, while the NYT describes the U.S. stance as “provisional backing.” In a less than inspiring moment, the British ambassador called the compromise “a trial balloon to see if it’s a way out of our current difficulties.” Some op-ed writers refuse to be bullied into enthusiasm, among them George F. Will, who declares in the Post that “the United Nations is not a good idea badly implemented, it is a bad idea.”

Donald Rumsfeld’s remarks continued to anger the allies yesterday, with the WSJ quoting a British MP who described Tony Blair as “the first victim of friendly fire.” Breaking their tradition of British politesse, Blair’s office is widely quoted as finding Rumsfeld’s remarks “unhelpful.”

Serbia’s assassinated Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic is on every front page; the leader was killed by a sniper yesterday. The NYT has the best reporting and flaunts it, putting a column just left of its U.N. lead. The WSJ gives the reefer second billing, and the WP sticks it under the fold. Serbia’s government, now without an elected president or prime minister, blames the killings on a local gang leader Djindjic was about to arrest.

Elizabeth Smart gets her picture on the cover of everything but the WSJ after her surprise rescue yesterday just 20 miles from her home. The 15-year-old Salt Lake City resident was missing for over 9 months, apparently kidnapped by a drifter. The LAT, WP, and NYT all mention her family’s unhappiness with the police: They say the kidnapper was under suspicion for months before he was brought in for questioning. The NYT also quotes her father worrying about brainwashing: “You just can’t imagine what this type of person might make her think or believe.”

The WP scoops a story on U.S. reconnaissance flights resuming near North Korea “with circumspection.” This apparently means the planes will not have fighter escorts, thereby reducing the probability of another war if Korean MiGs come to play chicken. The LAT and NYT have inside articles quoting U.S. officials who expect more provocation and uranium from Korea’s beloved leader.

USA Today has a reefer on an al-Qaida laptop owned by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that’s led U.S. investigators to half a dozen AQ hideouts on the Pakistan-Afghan border. So far, no Bin Laden.

The Columbia shuttle saga continues on the front pages of the LAT and NYT. Some NASA engineers requested satellite images of the damaged shuttle while it was still in orbit, but they were denied. The shuttle program manager nixed their efforts to get pictures from military satellites, and the NYT suggests the engineers felt this manager didn’t know enough about imagery.

Meanwhile, back at the war, the LAT did some reporting on those British troops everyone’s wrangling about:

Differences abound between the U.S. and British facilities, everything from military protocol to cuisine and entertainment. Lunch on the Argus recently was fresh oxtail soup, braised sausage and onions, and a Gainsborough tart. Entertainment in the evening was the Monty Python movie “Life of Brian.” There is a fully stocked bar in the officers’ wardroom—U.S. ships are dry— and detailed rules about who can drink what and when.

There is clearly less saluting than on U.S. ships. And though women make up about 40% of the crew, female pinup calendars are permitted in public spaces—something strictly forbidden on American ships.