Today's Papers

The End of Silence

The New York Timesleads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s meeting with Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, during an international conference on Iraq. In the first high-level talks between the two countries in more than two years, Rice asked that Syria do more to prevent foreign fighters from entering Iraq. “I didn’t lecture him, and he didn’t lecture me,” Rice said. The Los Angeles Timesleads with, and no one else fronts, the House of Representatives voting to expand the federal hate-crime law to people victimized for their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The Senate is expected to approve the measure but the White House has threatened a veto, saying it is “unnecessary and constitutionally questionable.”

The Washington Postleads with yesterday’s Republican presidential debate in California, where the 10 candidates repeatedly evoked the memory of Ronald Reagan and managed to spell out some differences on abortion, stem cells, immigration, and evolution. USA Todayleads with word that the Department of Homeland Security is looking into outfitting cell phones with equipment that could detect “radiological isotopes, toxic chemicals, and biological agents.” If it’s successful, officials are confident it could revolutionize the way the country detects and deals with a potential attack. 

In recent weeks there has been much speculation about possible talks between Rice and Iran’s foreign minister at the meeting in Egypt, but they never took place. Rice was apparently planning to approach her Iranian counterpart during dinner, but he left before she arrived. The Post notes that Iranian officials had “indirectly indicated” that this was not the appropriate time and place  for a meeting, but administration officials said they anticipate talks would take place sometime in the near future. USAT points out that photographers weren’t allowed to take pictures of Rice and Moualem shaking hands. Many see the meeting as a sign of a change in policy from an administration that until recently refused to talk to Syria and even criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for traveling to Damascus.

Although the legislation to expand federal hate-crime law has been discussed for almost 10 years, it has never reached the president. While opponents say the expansion would create a special class of victims and could stifle free speech, supporters insist the bill respects First Amendment rights.  

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was the only Republican candidate who didn’t answer with an emphatic “yes” when they were asked whether it would be a good day for America if Roe v. Wade was overturned. Sen. John McCain and Giuliani were also the only ones who offered some kind of support for stem-cell research. Meanwhile, three candidates signaled that they do not believe in evolution. The LAT points out that with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sitting in the audience, only two came out in favor of changing the Constitution to allow those who weren’t born in the country to run for president.

The debate itself was largely underwhelming, and the NYT notes that “at several points, it seemed as if the candidates were on a television game show.” In a critique of the debate, NYT’s Alessandra Stanley writes that the “the entire evening seemed intended to diminish the presidential aspirants rather than distinguish their positions.”

The WSJ goes high with, and the NYT fronts, news that Sen. Hillary Clinton announced she’ll co-sponsor a bill aimed at repealing the authorization for military operations in Iraq that Congress gave Bush in 2002. The bill would remove the president’s authority to wage war in Iraq on the fifth anniversary of the original vote, Oct. 11.

The WP fronts word out of Iraq that the number of attacks involving lethal weapons known as “explosively formed projectiles” increased last month to 65, which is a record. Officials say these projectiles are made in Iran and are being used almost exclusively by Shiite fighters against U.S. targets. In other news out of Iraq, military officials said U.S. troops killed a senior leader of al-Qaida in Iraq who was integrally involved in the kidnapping of several Westerners. Meanwhile, a rocket attack on the Green Zone killed four Asian civilian contractors.

The WP fronts yesterday’s testimony by a former deputy attorney general before the House judiciary committee, where he said most of the fired U.S. attorneys were doing a good job and he wasn’t aware of any performance issues that would justify their ouster. James Comey said that even though he was the “direct superviser” of the U.S. attorneys from 2003 until August 2005, he was never informed of a plan to remove several prosecutors. 

The LAT fronts another piece in its series about the origins of the money used by the Gates Foundation. Although the foundation gives millions to help Sudanese refugees, some of their money comes from investment in a company that funds a large part of Sudan’s military as well as the Janjaweed militias who kill and attack civilians in Darfur.

The NYT reefers word that Clark Hoyt was named the paper’s next public editor. Hoyt is a Pulitzer Prize winner and was Knight Ridder’s Washington editor from 1999 until the company was sold last year. He will take over from Byron Calame on May 14, and his appointment lasts two years.