Today's Papers

Potter Time

Everybody leads with local news this morning, with the exception of the Los Angeles Times (online, at least), which tops its front page with progress in the Middle East peace talks. Israel has agreed to cede more land, including the city of Bethlehem, to the Palestinians. The Washington Post’s top non-local story looks at President Bush’s shifting ground when it comes to relations with Israel. Last week, Bush delivered a rare rebuke to Israel when it lobbed bombs at a leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, but he reportedly later toned down comments in hopes of appeasing pro-Israel interests. Meanwhile, the top national story in the New York Times—which the others front—says a captured top lieutenant to Saddam Hussein has told Defense Department officials that the Iraqi leader and his two sons not only survived the war in Iraq but fled to Syria in its aftermath.

Under the deal currently being brokered by Secretary of State Colin Powell, Israel has offered to quadruple the area of land it had initially agreed to cede to a Palestinian state in hopes of actually pushing the “road map” through. The change of heart, according to the NYT, was prompted by the Palestinians’ move to actually discuss a security plan for the region—a development that Israeli officials see as a sign of hope. The wider peace package also includes a ceasefire by Hamas and an end to Israel’s targeted assassinations. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas also would be given a “grace period” of more than one week, during which Israel would not take military action in response to violence in the Gaza Strip. “This could work,” a senior Israeli official tells the LAT. According to the papers, a deal could be approved as early as Monday.

The WP, in its piece on Israel and the Bush administration, looks at the increasing pressure that Bush is feeling from pro-Israel interests as he attempts to push a Middle East peace plan. Bush’s rebuke, the paper notes, was “really just a mild expression” that he was “troubled” by Israel’s attack on Hamas. Yet the statement brought Bush endless grief from his conservative supporters, the paper says—including House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, who warned the White House to look out for Israel’s best interests or face political ramifications on Capitol Hill.

Everybody notes that, as negotiations continued yesterday, Hamas gunmen apparently targeted an American-born Israeli settler yesterday, killing him and injuring three of his family members as they drove though the West Bank.

In related news, the NYT goes inside with a look at the supposedly strained relationship between Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who will try her hand at peace talks next week. According to the paper, some believe Rice’s inclusion indicates the White House doesn’t trust Powell to be tough on the Palestinians. Furthermore, the NYT cites unnamed “Democrats” who say Powell is fuming over Rice’s new role—yet nobody else is quoted to back this assertion up.

All the papers note that U.S. officials are fairly skeptical about Abid Hamad Mahmoud al-Tikriti’s admission that Saddam and sons are alive and hiding in Syria. However, the NYT notes that some top officials regard the information “as having enormous political significance” that “had ignited a burst of clandestine American military activity” aimed at capturing the three. The papers note that, if al Tikriti’s statements are true, this is the first credible suggestion that Saddam and Co. might have escaped to Syria—thus adding credence to the Bush administration’s claims early on after the war that senior Iraqis had fled toward Damascus. Syria, for its part, continues to deny any knowledge of senior Iraqis taking refuge there.

In Iraq developments, the LAT reports that U.S. officials have ruled that two trailers seized in northern Iraq were biological weapons labs, thus rejecting “far-fetched” Iraqi claims that the vehicles were involved in making hydrogen for weather balloons. Yet, the U.S. Army has its own fleet of similar vehicles, “designed for precisely the same purpose,” the paper says. Still, a Central Intelligence Agency official says the hydrogen theory is bunk. “If they wanted to produce hydrogen, they could have produced it more efficiently,” the official tells LAT.

The WP goes inside with news of a perhaps not-so-surprising United Nations report noting that in spite of travel and arms sanctions on individuals linked to al-Qaida, no terrorists or weapons have been seized crossing international borders. “Despite the travel ban, members of the al-Qaida network have retained a high degree of mobility and have been able to carry out and contribute to terrorist attacks in several countries around the world,” the report says. One of the shortcomings: Many of the names on the travel ban list are misspelled or inadequately identified.

Everybody reports that the Senate yesterday overwhelmingly approved legislation that would allow pharmacists to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. Yet the NYT notes that the plan is contingent on the Bush administration ruling that such imports would pose no risk to the public, and so far, the White House has refused to give such approval.

A Page One piece in the WP looks at how everybody’s favorite couple—Bill and Hillary Clinton—continue to be a force in the Democratic Party and how some Dems aren’t too happy about it. A focus group poll conducted by the House Democratic fund-raising arm found that some Dems find the former president to be “immoral, smooth, crooked” and dishonest, while Hillary Clinton was viewed as “opportunist.” Others just gripe that the Clintons are stealing too many headlines, especially from Democrats seeking to unseat President Bush next year. Yet nobody is complaining about the couple’s fund-raising prowess—Hillary Clinton alone is set to raise “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for Dems in a handful of upcoming fund-raisers this summer.

The LAT stuffs word of an unusual new fashion trend: Men wearing women’s clothes, in particular jeans made for girls. Though it’s mostly sported by guys wanting to “show a little flesh, just like the girls,” the dividing line between male/female fashion genres is blurring, the paper reports. On fashion runways, guys have been spotted in pleated skirts and leggings, while “one even wore a bra to fill out a tight turtleneck.” There’s even male hosiery in the works, the paper notes. The look, according to one fashionista, is “dangerously sexy.”

Finally, the NYT gives major hype to the release of the latest Harry Potter book, publishing book maven Michiko Kakutani’s review above the fold on Page One. This installment is “a considerably darker, more psychological book” than its predecessors, Kakutani writes. In it, Potter finds that there are more ambiguities to grown-up life than he imagined. Yet the book is still as magical as the others in the series, according to the review. “Rowling has imagined this universe in such minute and clever detail that we feel that we’ve been admitted to a looking-glass world as palpable as Tolkien’s Middle Earth or L. Frank Baum’s Oz … a Grimm place where the fantastic and fabulous are routine, but also a place subject to all the limitations and losses of our own mortal world,” Kakutani says.