The New York Times leads with Jordanian King Abdullah abruptly canceling his White House visit that had been scheduled for later this week. A Jordanian government statement cited President Bush’s declaration last week in support of Israel keeping portions of the West Bank and against Palestinians’ perceived “right of return.” The Times notes inside that Israel’s finance minister announced that his government will invest millions of dollars into West Bank settlements as it pulls out of Gaza. As the Times notes, that runs counter to the so-called road map, nominally supported by the White House, which calls for a suspension of “all settlement activity.” The Wall Street Journal worldwide news box and the Washington Post lead with word that American officials have agreed not to go on the offensive in Fallujah and to ease their cordon if town leaders there can convince insurgents to stop fighting and hand over their heavy weapons. The Los Angeles Times leads with, the Post fronts, and the NYT stuffs President Bush’s naming U.S. envoy to the U.N. John Negroponte as the new ambassador to Iraq. Starting in July, Negroponte will effectively replace Iraq boss Paul Bremer and will be in charge of what one State Department official called “an embassy on steroids,” the largest embassy in the world. USA Today leads with homeland security chief Tom Ridge saying that the government will “ratchet up” security as lots of high-profile events are slated over the next six months, such as, say, the elections. Though USAT doesn’t say it up high, Ridge said he had no new info on specific threats.
A U.S. spokesman in Baghdad said “there is a big question about whether or not” Fallujah’s civic leaders can deliver. But the Post says Iraqis were optimistic and point out that local leaders have already successfully pushed the guerrillas to settle down; things have been fairly quiet in Fallujah over the past few days.
The WP says that despite Negroponte’s appointment, the White House still hasn’t decided whether the overall U.S. mission in Iraq will be under the control of the State Department or the Pentagon. The LAT emphasizes Negroponte’s history as ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, where he oversaw the arming of the anti-Sandinista Contras and appears to have turned a blind eye to death squads. Here is a 2001 New Republic article presenting evidence that Negroponte knew about such squads and “deceived” Congress about their existence. Democratic congressional staffers told the Post that they’re not going to make an issue of Negroponte’s history.
In coverage that’s scattered around, the papers report: Mortar rounds landed near the U.N.’s Baghdad compound, killing two Iraqis and wounding several young girls. Al Iraqiya, a U.S.-funded TV station, said that two of its employees were killed near Samarra when “American forces opened fire on them while they were performing their duty.” And though negotiations continued with cleric Muqtada Sadr, two GIs were wounded in an attack by his militia near Najaf.
Everybody mentions that, as expected, Honduras announced that it will be pulling its 370 troops from Iraq. Honduras’ force relies on the soon-to-depart Spain for logistical support.
The Post fronts a poll that has Bush in front of Sen. Kerry 49 percent to 44 percent, with Nader at 6 percent. The poll also found that Iraq and the “war on terrorism” have surged in importance. Looking at the poll data, a majority or plurality of respondents disapproved of Bush’s handling of nine of 11 issues listed, with the exceptions being education and “the U.S. campaign against terrorism.”
USAT fronts a poll showing that an increasing number of respondents, 33 percent, want the U.S. to send more troops into Iraq. Three months ago, just 11 percent of respondents called for reinforcements. Forty-seven percent want the U.S. to withdraw some or all troops, about the same percentage as in January.
The Post’s Dana Milbank says the White House’s penchant for secrecy extends to travel plans as well as to scheduled visits to the White House. Of course, says Milbank, there are often legitimate reasons to keep things hushed up. And then there are all the other cases. When foreign leaders visit the White House, the press often learns about the impending trips from the country in question rather than through the White House. As Milbank adds, the same thing often happens on the domestic front. A few years ago, for instance, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the Apopka Little League team had been invited to the White House to play some tee-ball. The Sentinel found that out through parents. The paper reported, “The White House would not confirm the invitation.”