The New York Times leads with a check-in on the U.S.'s Mideast peace efforts. There's no real news here. According to the paper, Vice President Cheney is prepared to meet with Arafat as soon as U.S peace envoy Gen. Anthony Zinni gives the thumbs up. The Times says Zinni is going to meet with Palestinian and Israeli officials today in the hopes of nailing down a cease-fire. If that happens, Cheney could swing by for a visit as early as Monday. The Los Angeles Times leads with President Bush's visit to Peru. The paper emphasizes that, in the wake of the bombing a few days ago outside the U.S. Embassy in Lima, the meeting focused on terrorism, as well as trade. The article also notices up high that the Democratic Party used its weekly radio address to blast Bush's trip as a ploy to "curry favor with Latino voters." The Washington Post leads with a follow-up on government raids last week of Muslim charities and businesses in Virginia that the Feds suspected of giving money to terrorists. Many Muslims have been outraged by the raids, which were focused on some of the nation's most respected Muslim charities. Said one critic, "The message we are getting is, this war, even though they claim it is against terrorism, is against Muslims." The Post's story, which is hard to follow, gives the sense that the government has long thought the organizations have had fishy financing but doesn't yet have its case nailed down.
The NYT off-leads a potential blockbuster: "American and Israeli intelligence officials have concluded that Yasser Arafat has forged a new alliance with Iran that involves Iranian shipments of heavy weapons and millions of dollars to Palestinian groups that are waging guerrilla war against Israel." (It'd be interesting to known exactly which "Palestinian groups" the Israelis are talking about, especially since Arafat insists he has no connection to, or leverage over, many of them.) The Times says the relationship was cemented last May when the sides met in Moscow. The paper explains that Arafat was talking with Russian President Putin at the time of meeting, but cites intel officials saying that Arafat "personally approved" the relationship.
"This is a factory of lies," said a Palestinian Authority spokesman. "Israel is like any colonial power. When they get in trouble, they try to blame outsiders."
As the NYT notes, there have been previous examples of Palestinian-Iranian links, namely the ship full of Iranian weapons that was captured on its way to the Gaza Strip earlier this year. But the Times says, "American and Israeli officials say they now see the shipment as part of a broader relationship."
The Times leaves one of the most eye-catching bits until the 47th paragraph. Citing Israeli sources, the paper says that Arafat was so keen to get Iranian weapons that in exchange he "agreed to provide Iran with access to Palestinian intelligence on Israeli military positions and defenses."
The paper's delayed mention is understandable; the article is full of interesting threads. Most notably, citing Israeli sources, the Times says a top al-Qaida official "has turned up in Tehran under the protection of Iranian security forces." The sources told the paper that the official dispatched three men to bomb targets in Israel. (The Times also adds a grain of salt, "American officials say they are uncertain how much direct support senior Iranian government officials are giving to al-Qaida members.")
The paper wraps the story up by emphasizing that Washington is increasingly worried that Iranian hardliners have gained the upper-hand over reformers.
An aside: The Times' piece is datelined from Tel Aviv and relies heavily on Israeli sources. It's worth remembering that the Israeli government has a vested interest in connecting the dots from Arafat to Teheran to al-Qaida. And as it happens, it's been making that case for a while.
The WP, meanwhile, stuffs a story on Iran emphasizing that the country "presents an increasingly complex problem" for the Bush administration, namely how to deal with the internal competition between reformers and hardliners. The paper's 5th paragraph mentions, then flies by, the bit that forms that backbone of the NYT's story, "Israeli officials say the arms shipments are part of a broader alignment between Iran and Palestinian groups."
The LAT goes above the fold with a quickie history of Operation Anaconda. The piece has plenty of reconstructed narrative, but no real news or analysis.
The NYT fronts word that the White House's energy plan hyped something called a pebble-bed reactor. According to the paper, only one company is designing such a gizmo, "the Exelon Corporation of Chicago, which provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican campaigns in recent years."
The WP's Outlook section has an interesting op-ed: "This year more than half a million babies in the developing world will contract from their mothers the virus that causes AIDS, despite the fact that drugs and therapies exist that could virtually eliminate mother-to-child transmission of the killer disease." The writer proposes that the U.S. hand out an additional $500 million this year to fight AIDS. The author? Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C.
Helms explains his newfound charitable mentality: He's still for a "very limited government." "But not all laws are of this earth. We also have a higher calling, and in the end our conscience is answerable to God. Perhaps, in my 81st year, I am too mindful of soon meeting Him."
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