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A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 19 1997 6:45 AM

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Russia's attempt to resolve the Iraq crisis via diplomacy leads at the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. A big bank merger leads at the New York Times.

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Russia's foreign minister met in Moscow, say the papers, with the Iraqi Deputy Premier and emerged to say that Russia has "a program" to resolve the UN showdown with Iraq that will allow weapons inspectors to return to their work there. U.S. officials, according to the WP, are keeping their distance from the Russian demarche while sending more warplanes to the Persian Gulf. What's in it for Russia? Well, there's superpower envy, of course, but also, the Post suggests, Russia would like Iraq to be in a position to pay back some of the millions it still owes from years of military sponsorship, and Moscow is also interested in developing some of Iraq's oil resources.

Lest anyone lose sight of what this is all about, the LAT states that Saddam "has enough chemical and biological weapons to wipe out infantry divisions, if not whole cities." (Note to editors: when you refer to a division, say how many people that is--somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000. Most readers haven't been in the army and don't know.) And a NYT op-ed piece tells a likewise cautionary tale about nukes, saying that Iraq has arrived at a Scud-launchable atomic bomb design and that to make it work, Saddam only needs 35 pounds of enriched uranium.

The NYT lead throbs over the imminent convergence of First Union Corp. and Corestates Financial Corp. The $17.1 billion transaction, would, notes the Times, be the biggest bank deal ever. And, the paper adds, it would leave Philadelphia, "the nation's first banking capital, without a major bank that calls it home." The bathos of this sentence and the placement of the story--a lead nobody else but the WSJ even has on the front page--is a reminder of the penchant the Times has for overplaying money.

In its "talker" position across the top front, USAT puts the news that the FBI held a press conference yesterday in which it explained at length why it does not believe the crash of TWA 800 involved a crime. The story also gets front-page play at the NYT, LAT, and WP. But the nature of that coverage varies considerably: the NYT's piece dominates the top front via the use of three color shots from the CIA video the FBI presented, while the LAT runs it as a two-inch square box "reefer" well below the fold.

A NYT editorial praises the FBI for letting the American people in on its reasoning--rather than, as it so often has in the past (like at Waco for instance), simply saying, Hey trust us, we're the FBI.

There are front-page wrap-ups of Monday's Egyptian horror at the WP, NYT, and USAT. The big news there is that Egypt's largest fundamentalist terrorist group has claimed credit for the atrocity, saying that it was undertaken to seize hostages to trade for the cleric imprisoned in the U.S. for plotting to blow up NYC landmarks.

The Wall Street Journal reports that an activist's TV commercial urging viewers to cut back on Christmas materialism by participating in "Buy Nothing Day" has been rejected by the major broadcast networks (it has been accepted by CNN). CBS, for instance, rejected the ad on the grounds that such an event is "in opposition to the current economic policy in the United States."