The New York Times leads with the admission by senior intelligence officials and nuclear experts that Iran and North Korea haven’t curbed their nuclear weapons programs despite the Bush administration’s best diplomatic efforts. According to a new classified intelligence report, North Korea now likely has the capabilities to test a nuclear weapon, while Iran is thought to be just a few years away from producing a bomb of their own. The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with the continued fighting in Najaf, where the WP says 23 civilians were killed and 121 wounded yesterday.
According to the NYT, the administration is responding to Iran’s expanding weapons program by increasing “unspecified covert actions” in the country, though some experts are skeptical of such efforts since the sale of nuclear secrets by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan greatly advanced the technology behind the programs and made them harder to disrupt. The piece also says Israeli officials have stated privately that they would consider an attack on Iran’s nuclear plant similar to the one on Iraq’s Osirak facility in 1981 should the Iranians come close to producing a weapon. The article waits until the last paragraph graph to note that Iran has placed its facilities in areas that would be very difficult to strike. As for North Korea, the new report suggests the country has made significant progress with its plutonium weapons and has also begun developing a uranium program, though the report admits to significant gaps in the available intelligence.
The LAT lead focuses on the failed raid on Muqtada Sadr’s home—the Iraqi National Guard hoped to arrest the rebel cleric but he wasn’t home. The raid came as Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced that he didn’t believe Sadr is behind the insurgency, which the piece calls a politically motivated statement to head off a potential Shiite rebellion. The NYT’s comprehensive take on the fighting notes that much of the combat has moved from a large cemetery in the center of Najaf to the adjoining “streets and alleyways” and says the Iraqi government has shown little interest in the rebel militia’s call for a cease-fire. The WP devotes much of its coverage to the interim government’s decision to shutter the Baghdad bureau of Al Jazeera because of allegations that the news channel is inciting violence in the region.
The NYT goes above the fold with the news that that the same Pakistani informant who had cased out targets from the finance sector in New York and D.C. also knew of plans for a possible terrorist attack during the November election. Intelligence officials say that because of the “clandestine manner in which they operated,” they’re increasingly convinced that the al-Qaida members who conducted surveillance in the U.S. in 2000 and 2001 were planning an attack.
An LAT story says that, despite Michael Moore’s claims to the contrary, Saudi Arabia has finally begun “taking the al-Qaeda threat seriously” and started sharing intelligence on the terrorist group with the U.S. government. The piece claims al-Qaida is planning to switch from kidnapping foreigners to targeting members of the Saudi royal family as a way of drawing recruits that are dissatisfied with the Saudi government. Despite claims of Saudi rulers that al-Qaida’s presence there has weakened, the article convincingly suggests that the countervailing pressures from fundamentalists and western allies will keep the regime hamstrung for some time.
The WP fronts a lengthy piece on the potential havoc of truck and car bombs. Stronger buildings, more checkpoints, and sophisticated detection technology haven’t made the U.S. less vulnerable to vehicular explosives. Security officials lament that there are an array of potential chemicals that could be used to fashion a homemade explosive and no national database of motor vehicles to check suspicious cars and trucks against.
Another front-page WP story suggests that the tenure of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., hasn’t lived up to initial high expectations. Many Republicans are upset over Frist’s inability to pass high-profile legislation on class-action lawsuits and energy despite the GOP holding the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress. The article quotes critics who say he’s been too beholden to the conservative base and has refused to make reasonable compromises.
An NYT “Week in Review” piece looks at one of John Kerry’s biggest weaknesses: He’ a senator. Only Warren Harding and John F. Kennedy have made the leap from sitting senator to president, and they were each one-termers. The poor luck of senators might explain why Kerry rarely spoke about his Senate record during his convention speech.