Today's Papers

French Hiss

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today lead with France and Germany’s tepid response to the Bush administration’s U.N. mandate for Iraq. In a joint meeting yesterday, the leaders of the two countries said the proposed resolution failed to meet two primary concerns: that political authority in Iraq should be turned over to Iraqis as soon as possible; and that the U.N., not the U.S., should take the lead in rebuilding the country. The New York Times leads with word that U.S. negotiators, with President Bush’s permission, last week offered North Korea a few carrots in exchange for giving up its nuclear program, including a possible peace treaty and a rollback of sanctions. According to the NYT, the inducements would be “phased in slowly” as the country surrenders its weapons—a “major departure” from the White House’s position earlier this year that North Korea would see no benefits until it completely dismantled its nuclear facilities.

While it may have seemed like a major case of déjà vu, both the LAT and NYT look at the bright side of yesterday’s developments, noting that France and Germany didn’t outright reject the Bush administration’s U.N. resolution. Sure, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder did call the plan “not dynamic enough, not sufficient,” while French President Jacques Chirac, whose country has veto power over the plan, called the proposal “quite far from what for us is the primary objective,” but, as the LAT notes, U.S. diplomats put a nice spin to the remarks, telling reporters that they regarded the comments as “as a starting point for negotiations.”

Still, everyone plays up Secretary of State Colin Powell’s “puzzlement” over the remarks yesterday. “I don’t see from their statements that they said what exactly they are looking for or who they would turn it over to if we were turning it over right away,” Powell said. 

Meanwhile, other members of the Security Council stayed mostly out of the limelight yesterday. Russia and China, which like France hold veto power on the council, did not oppose the resolution yesterday, while Mexican and Chilean officials “reserved judgment,” the WP reports.

USAT goes high with more potential complications on the Iraq front: As the U.S. and Turkey launched negotiations yesterday over bringing Turkish troops to Iraq, newly appointed Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the Arabic satellite network Al Jazeera that Turkish soldiers would not be welcome in Iraq because forces from a neighboring country might bring their own political agenda.

British officials, meanwhile, announced yesterday they are considering an increase in ground troops in Iraq, the WP reports. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was quoted by the Daily Telegraph as calling for an additional 5,000 British soldiers to join the 11,000 stationed in southern Iraq, noting that if more troops aren’t deployed the U.S. and Britain face “strategic failure” in the war.

The NYT, meanwhile, fronts and everybody else stuffs Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to Baghdad yesterday, where he announced that his “highest priority” was to speed up the recruitment, training, and deployment of former Iraqi officers to help control disorder in the country. At one time, U.S. officials said an Iraqi army should number no more than 40,000 troops and would not exceed 12,000 soldiers in the first year after the war, the paper reports. Currently, roughly 14,000 armed Iraqis have been deployed—a number that could be raised to 100,000 in coming months, according to Rumsfeld.

The WP follows up its scoop from yesterday on the pricey Iraq budget request, reporting that members of Congress—even those from President Bush’s own party—were shocked at the anticipated $60 billion to $70 billion budget request. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., * who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, tells the paper that before voting for more money he wants to see “the light at the end of the tunnel.” But even amid bickering and threats of political turmoil, both Democrats and Republicans conceded that Bush probably would get whatever funds he requests.

On the North Korea front, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tells the NYT (in what the paper describes as “a brief telephone conversation”) that Bush’s policy on handing out benefits to the country was no significant change. Rice “emphasized that any major benefits to North Korea would come only after it could no longer pose a nuclear threat or rebuild its nuclear capacity”—the key phrase, it seems, being “major benefits.” The WP, which stuffs the news, says there was a suggestion that the benefits might move “parallel” to North Korea’s efforts to disarm. Major benefits, minor benefits—it may all be moot anyway, since negotiators think North Korea didn’t pick up on the U.S.’s overtures last week anyway, a LAT piece notes. Some think the country’s diplomats simply weren’t listening.

Everybody fronts word that embattled Bush nominee Miguel Estrada dropped his two-year bid to join the federal appeals court in Washington yesterday. Estrada’s nomination had been the subject of a lengthy filibuster by Senate Democrats, who rejected him as an “extreme conservative” who refused to answer basic questions about his work history. While the NYT notes that some Republicans “strongly suggested” that he was opposed by Democrats because of his Hispanic heritage, C. Boydon Gray, who fronts a group that lobbies in favor of Bush’s judicial nominees, tells the LAT that Estrada wasn’t opposed for his heritage. “They opposed him because he was President Bush’s Hispanic,” he said.

Finally, the WP and NYT weigh in today with two nearly identical, yet long-overdue, profiles of Brian Wells, the 46-year-old pizza delivery driver at the center of what has to be the strangest crime story of the year. Last week, Wells walked into an Erie, Pa., bank, near the pizza shop where he worked, revealed that he had a bomb locked to his neck, and demanded money. When police apprehended him a short time later, he told them a “dark-skinned man,” according to the NYT, had locked the bomb to his neck and that he had to return with the money in order to defuse the explosive. But before the bomb squad arrived, the device exploded—killing Wells instantly.

Investigators still don’t know if Wells was an innocent bystander or a willing accomplice—or if the plot was related to the suspicious death of one of his co-workers. But to his friends and neighbors, Wells, who loved talking about the TV show Survivor and working on his beloved Geo Metro, was too childlike to have pulled off such an elaborate crime. “I just couldn’t believe this guy could have done something to bring so many police around,” a witness to the explosion tells the NYT. “He looked so average, so common, so confused.”

Correction, Sept. 10, 2003: This story originally stated that Rep. Zach Wamp represents Pennsylvania. In fact, he represents Tennessee’s 3rd District. (Return to the corrected sentence.)