, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times lead with Wednesday's onset in Washington of the Israel-Syria peace talks. The Washington Post puts the talks above the fold but goes instead with the continued Russia vs. Chechnya fighting in the Chechen capital, Grozny.
The Israel-Syria leads all describe the day starting with a Rose Garden ceremony in which President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara spoke. Clinton's and Barak's remarks were brief and cordial, the papers agree, but then Shara used his remarks to tick off at some length a list of Syria's grievances against Israel. The papers make it clear that this soured the mood and created considerable awkwardness. Both the LAT and the NYT make this point high up, while USAT holds it for the penultimate paragraph. But, says the NYT, by the end of the day, after several hours of three-way talks, the atmosphere seemed much improved.
The WP and NYT report that a Russian armored column's penetration into Grozny was met with strong resistance from Chechen rebels. Both papers, relying on a Reuters reporter on the scene, say the three-hour battle left 100 Russian soldiers dead, with the NYT noting that the total Russian KIA in this year's Chechnya fighting before yesterday's battle was 400. The LAT dispatch is more noncommittal about the battle, leaving the clear impression that it had no eyes on the battlefield. Indeed, the caption on the paper's front-page illustrated reefer to the battle story inside reads "RUSSIANS ROLL IN." The Wall Street Journal runs an AP dispatch stating that the Chechens have "repulsed" Russian forces.
USAT reports that the Federal Aviation Administration has reversed a long-standing position with its announcement yesterday that it will require special safety seats for small children traveling in airliners. The story doesn't mention who will pay for these seats, the parents or the airlines, but it does say that under the new policy, the parents will probably be buying a separate ticket for their toddlers, something they can avoid now by holding them. The story saves for the 10th paragraph the total number of unrestrained babies who've been killed in plane crashes in the past 20 years: two.
Everybody reports inside that yesterday, for the first time, former Democratic fund-raiser and Clinton administration Commerce Department official John Huang testified before a committee of Congress. The papers report that Huang denied that he had any part in channeling money from the Chinese government to the Clinton-Gore '96 campaign but that he did admit to receiving $40,000 in "gift money" from James Riady, a wealthy Indonesian with ties to Bill Clinton. The WP observes the hearing was poorly attended: out of 43 committee members, only five Republicans and one Democrat were present.
Following up its report yesterday on a federal investigation of MTV's possible restraint of trade, the WSJ reports that major music companies, including Sony and Time Warner, have talked with federal antitrust officials about settling allegations that they have illegally discouraged retailers from discounting CDs.
An inside WP story details the extent of domestic drug production in this country. According to information supplied by the Clinton administration's drug policy office, marijuana has become the No. 1 cash crop in poor areas of Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, while "speed" manufacturing is on the upswing in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa.
The WP and NYT report inside that Al Gore released a summary of his medical records yesterday, which indicate he's in "outstanding overall health for a 51-year-old man." The only real risk factor revealed is that his cholesterol is borderline high--231. Meanwhile, here are some of the questions from the WSJ online edition's candidate questionnaire that Bill Bradley "declined to answer": "What single figure has had the greatest influence on the development of your own political thinking?" "If you had to rely upon a single person as your foremost economic policy adviser, who would it be?" "If you had to rely upon a single person as your foremost foreign policy adviser, who would it be?" "What contemporary American liberal do you most admire? Why?" "What is your favorite television program?" "Which book that you've read this year has been most important?" "What book (excepting the Bible) that you've ever read has been most important to you? Why?" "What is the best movie you've seen in the past year?" "What is the best movie you've ever seen?"