The New York Timesand Washington Postlead with, while the Los Angeles Times devotes its top nonlocal story to, today’s Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Md. The papers struggle to say something new about an event that has been extensively dissected and analyzed during the past few weeks. The NYT says that although President Bush’s efforts at drawing a peace deal might seem “Clintonesque,” he isn’t likely to be as personally involved in hammering out an agreement as his predecessor, and any future talks will probably become the responsibility of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. President Bush met with the Palestinian and Israeli leaders at the White House yesterday, and the LAT notes that he emphasized the U.S. role in the negotiations would be limited. The WP highlights that despite what the Bush administration might say publicly, Saudi Arabia’s government expects the United States to take a hands-on approach to brokering a peace deal.
The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with confirmation that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will step down as Pakistan’s army chief Wednesday and will be sworn in as civilian president Thursday. USA Todayleads with the deal reached by President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki yesterday that marks the beginnings of negotiations on the future long-term relationship between Iraq and the United States. The deal calls for a one-year extension of the current U.N. mandate but there was no mention of future troop levels. Maliki told Iraqis it would provide for U.S. support “against domestic and external dangers.”
There’s little doubt that today’s peace conference is historic. It’s the first serious attempt at talks in almost seven years, and the last time there was an international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian issue was in 1991. Bush went as far as to declare himself “optimistic” even as his administration was busy trying to lower expectations. And it wasn’t alone. “The mother of all photo ops,” was how an Israeli official described the conference.
Despite all the negative talk, the LAT emphasizes that both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have a lot riding on the conference and stand to be severely criticized at home over what happens today. If nothing happens, Hamas could gain more support from Palestinians and Olmert could face a backlash if he’s seen as giving away too much. The Post notes that the situation is complicated by the fact that Olmert is “deeply unpopular” while Abbas really only has control over “half of the Palestinian people.”
The NYT notes that administration officials hope that the fear of a rising Iran could motivate Arab countries to push for progress in the peace process. The Post takes a look inside at how “uninvited guests” like Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas may have the biggest impact on the peace talks. “Iran will be the 5,000-pound elephant in the room,” a former U.S. peace negotiator said.
U.S. officials had little chance to celebrate Musharraf’s decision to step down from his role as head of the army because they’re now worried the return of Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan’s political landscape could hurt efforts to target al-Qaida and Taliban militants, report the WSJ and NYT. Sharif didn’t have a good relationship with the United States when he led Pakistan in the 1990s and had close dealings with religious extremists. U.S. officials would rather deal with Musharraf and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, but “Washington appears to have taken a back seat, or at least a stance of resignation at the inevitable,” says the NYT.
The Post fronts, and everyone mentions, Sen. Trent Lott’s announcement that he will end his 35-year career in Congress next month. The resignation came as a surprise since Lott had just won re-election last year and had made a stunning political comeback after he was ousted from the party’s leadership when he made remarks that were seen as supportive of segregationist policies.
The retirement of the Senate’s No. 2 Republican is the latest blow to the GOP, which had already seen a string of lawmakers announce their retirement plans. The NYT and LAT emphasize that by retiring before the end of the year, Lott will be able to skirt new ethics rules, which will force senators to wait two years instead of one before they can lobby former colleagues. The WSJ highlights that Sen. Jon Kyl is likely to take Lott’s place as minority whip, which would mark “a further shift to the right by Senate Republicans.”
The WP and WSJ front the latest bad news from the stock markets as the major indexes fell more than 10 percent from their recent highs, which is generally defined as a “correction.” The WSJ notes that although corrections were once common, this is the first one since 2003 and it’s a clear sign that “Wall Street is betting on a recession,” says the WP. As investors run away from risk and seek refuge in Treasury bonds, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note reached its lowest level in more than three years.
The NYT goes inside with word that Sen. Edward Kennedy will apparently receive an $8 million advance for his memoirs. The publisher hopes the book will come out in 2010, but Kennedy must clear the deal with the Senate ethics committee before it can be finalized.
The NYT fronts a look at how one of the hottest Russian designers is selling clothes that are adorned with classic symbols of the USSR, including the hammer and sickle and the Soviet coat of arms. But Denis Simachev is unlikely to want a return to communism. His store is on one of Moscow’s most expensive streets and his T-shirts sell for about $600.