The Washington Postleads with “U.S. officials” debuting a deal with Russia to bolster efforts at preventing loose nukes. The pact, which is set to be formally announced today, will include security upgrades at Russia’s nukes depots. The New York Timesleads with the White House hinting it’s open to joining with Europe in offering carrots to convince Iran not to make nukes. National Security Adviser Steven Hadley said the president “has heard a lot of suggestions and [will] give it some thought.” USA Todayleads with government projections showing health spending eating up about 19 percent of the GDP by 2014 versus 14 percent now. The government is expected to pick up 49 percent of that future tab, up from 46 percent now. The U.S.’s health care system, one of the few in the industrialized world that isn’t nationalized, is already the world’s most expensive, per capita. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the Supreme Court ruling that prisons can’t as a matter of policy segregate inmates by race. That puts a crimp in a 25-year-old California policy that did just that in an attempt to combat gang violence.
The U.S. has long refused to join the E.U. at the negotiating table with Iran. And except for the NYT, the papers don’t spend much ink on the hint of a possible change. The Wall Street Journal, which also goes high with the latest from the president’s trip, saysBush and European officials have “worked hard—without actually changing their policy—to create the impression that the U.S. and E.U. were speaking with one voice.” (One paper that does agree with the NYT that the administration’s language may be significant: the Financial Times.)
The Post says details on the loose-nukes pact are still being worked out. And the paper points out that the deal “could be used as a counterpoint to the rising tension in U.S.-Russian relations.” But details and PR potential aside, a former Clinton administration official said if the president “can get Putin to agree to this, it’s a very important step.”
The NYT notices a somewhat limited audience for Bush’s good will tour: “The president was entirely sealed off from Germans—other than Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the German journalists at a news conference, and even a town-meeting-type encounter with Mainz residents was scrubbed out of worry the mood would be hostile.”
An analysis inside by the Post by Glenn Kessler says the White House’s “charm offensive” is obscuring the basic trend: “European leaders are increasingly united against U.S. positions and feel emboldened to go their own way.”
The Post fronts word that the Pentagon has been pushing permission to send commandos into countries without giving U.S. ambassadors a heads up. That would break with long-standing tradition, and the State Department and CIA are both fighting the plan. Recently departed Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said he ordered an aide to move against the proposal: “I gave [him] instructions to dismount, kill the horses and fight on foot—this is not going to happen.” The Post says (deep down) that the battle has been smoldering for two years and “reignited” last month when Secretary of State Rice came on board. Rice apparently hasn’t offered her opinion yet. But it’s not hard to figure out which side the folks who’ve chatted up the WP—mostly non-military types—are pushing Condi to come down on. (FWIW: There have been rumblings of this rift before.)
The NYT’s national edition fronts a bipartisan panel of state lawmakers issuing a report that the No Child Left Behind Act is ineffective, contradictory, and oh yeah, unconstitutional (purportedly because it gives Washington too much control over education). The report is based on hearings the panel had in six cities.And the Times paraphrases expert reaction, very carefully:“Several education experts said the panel had accurately captured the views of thousands of state lawmakers and local educators.” (Nice to know. And just out of curiosity, are those views accurate?)
The Post’s Reliable Source says some airplanes editions of Sideways appear to have replaced one seven-letter A-list swear word, with, well, “Ashcroft.”
Ah, Shiite … From the NYT’s correction page:
The caption on Feb. 14 for a picture by Reuters with the continuation of an article about the Iraqi elections misstated the reason Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite cleric, was weeping. He was participating in a mourning ritual as part of Ashura, a holy Shiite festival - not reacting to results showing that his political alliance had won a slim majority of seats. A second caption for a Reuters photo misstated the reason a Shiite was shown flagellating himself in a Baghdad procession. He was taking part in the same mourning ritual, not celebrating the election outcome.