Today's Papers

Iran’s Enriching Experience

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all lead with Iran’s announcement that it has enriched a bit of uranium for use in civilian reactors, though far below the quantity and purity needed for nukes. “Iran has joined the nuclear countries of the world,” said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a ceremony filled with music, dance, and fun. USA Todayreefers Iran and leads with a two-story travel special: The first piece details government estimates that gas prices at the start of summer will be about 25 cents higher than last year but are expected to decrease as the summer goes on. The second story says there’s been a “double-digit percentage” rise in average airfare since the fall.

Iran still appears to have a long way to go before it can actually make nukes. It enriched the uranium to 3.5 percent purity; for weapons-grade material they need to kick it up to about 80 percent and do so on an industrial scale, all of which will likely take years. “They need to learn a lot more to produce it in significant quantities and they need to build a lot more centrifuges,” said one specialist.

Tehran’s announcement “should be depicted with caveats,” one U.N. inspector told the LAT. “If they’ve enriched for 5 minutes it’s one thing, if you have major enrichment it’s another.”

With the exception of the Post, the papers play up those caveats and emphasize that the bigger import of yesterday’s big announcement may be political. The Security Council has specifically called for Iran to stop enriching uranium, and Iran was sticking it to them. Top U.N. inspector Mohamed ElBaradei is scheduled to arrive in Tehran this week in an effort to get Iran to chill out. (Quibble: The NYT’s story emphasizes all this—”the announcement may have had less to do with an engineering feat than with carefully timed political theater”—but the paper’s headline doesn’t exactly convey that: “IRAN REPORTS BIG ADVANCE IN ENRICHMENT OF URANIUM.”)

One analyst in Tehran told Knight Ridder that he’s betting Iran will next actually announce a freeze on enrichment. “They wanted this big ceremony to show that nuclear technology is not a goal—it’s an achievement,” he said. “This is enough, and now we can go back to negotiations.”

The WP revisits those nonexistent mobile bio labs the White House once insisted that Saddam had. “We have found the weapons of mass destruction,” Bush declared in May 2003 after some trailers were found. The Post says two days before that, a secret Pentagon mission had sent its findings “to Washington” and unanimously concluded that the trailers weren’t for banned weapons. The team had inspected the trailers and dubbed them “the biggest sand toilets in the world.” Said one team member, “Within the first four hours, it was clear to everyone that these were not biological labs.”

The Post’s bio labs story mentions that the team included both American and British personnel. Which is interesting, because take a look at one of the first stories on the found trailers, from the NYT:

U.S. Aides Say Iraqi Truck Could Be a Germ-War Lab
BAGHDAD, May 7 [2003]
Senior Bush administration officials in Washington said today that a joint British-American team of experts had concluded that a tractor-trailer truck found in northern Iraq several weeks ago could be a mobile biological weapons lab.

Is that the same team that soon concluded the bio-story was BS? (For the Times’ part, the paper soon corrected course and later had great coverage of the trailers.)

In other WMD-ish news, TP and some others had a kvetch-fest noting that, according to the special prosecutor, Scooter Libby had been told to tell reporters that intel agencies had firmly concluded that Saddam was trying to get uranium even though intel agencies weren’t firm on that. Well, today’s WP mentions that the special prosecutor has now issued a correction: Libby, reportedly, was not told to say that.

The WP fronts the results of an in-house poll on Medicare’s new drug benefit concluding that recipients are actually pretty darn happy with the coverage. About 75 percent said the paperwork was easy, and two-thirds said the program has saved them money.

The Journal goes Page One with, and everybody else mentions, a federal study concluding that, contrary to long-held wisdom, estrogen treatment during menopause doesn’t itself increase the risk of breast cancer. The study did find that another hormone, progestin, can increase the risk. As the WSJ emphasizes, the conclusions were the latest from the Women’s Health Initiative, whose studies have “been plagued by design challenges and differing interpretations.”

The military announced that five U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq this week, including three by one roadside bomb. The NYT notes that 32 troops have been killed there this month, more than the number of deaths “for all of March.”

Everybody mentions that about 50 people were killed by a bomb at a Sunni prayer service in Pakistan, where hundreds have been killed in sectarian violence during the last few years.

The NYT off-leads the mini-tumult in Italy, where the center-left coalition—led by longtime pol Romano Prodi—appears to have eked out a victory over Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The only catch is that Berlusconi is refusing to concede and warning he’ll challenge the results.

Bill, Please … For those who haven’t spotted it yet, the NYT’s top editor, Bill Keller, has been answering readers’ questions all week. Keller’s been quite the Chatty Cathy—16 detailed, and quite friendly, answers so far. No word yet on what happens after Friday, so get ‘em in now.