The papers all lead in different directions this morning. The New York Times and Washington Post lead on separate regional conflicts while the Los Angeles Times goes local about impending HMO reforms in California. Otherwise, there's some Memorial Weekend unanimity, with the NYT piecing together the final 102 minutes at the World Trade Center, and the WP recounting the horrors of war refugees from Sierra Leone and their integration into American society.
The New York Times leads with an "intense" debate in the White House about Yasser Arafat and whether to press for his removal as the leader of the Palestinian Authority. According to the NYT's sources ("some administration officials") the debate has effectively frozen Middle East policy. The story claims that the infighting has caused CIA director George Tenet to delay his mission to the region: President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have been saying that Tenet will go to the Middle East for two weeks now, but have recently sent an assistant secretary of state in the meantime.
The split in the administration follows "familiar lines": Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz are against Arafat with Powell and Tenet on the other side. Those two counter that there's no alternative to the Palestinian leader. Some administration officials argue that the debate—and the delay it's causing—may give the administration some needed time to assess Arafat's changing political fortunes as he reacts to escalating internal criticism. But one unnamed Israeli lobbyists disagrees about any possible benefits, observing that the administration has "got themselves tied in a knot."
The Washington Post leads with Gen. Pervez Musharraf's promise that infiltration of Islamic militants from Pakistan into Indian-held Kashmir has stopped. "We will ensure that terrorism does not go from Pakistan anywhere outside into the world," Pakistan's president said. In return, he demanded a response from New Delhi, including the renewal of direct talks. He also claimed that India is making war threats "to destabilize me, my government and Pakistan." The Post speculates that Musharraf is signaling to the West and India that he is now prepared to be held accountable for cross-border attacks in Kashmir.
The NYT gets at the Pakistan-India story through Bush and Putin and their diplomatic efforts from St. Petersburg. Bush urged Musharraf to "stop the incursions" while Putin condemned Pakistan's new missile tests. (The Post treats their comments as a separate story, burying it on A-21.) The NYT's story notes that earlier in the afternoon the two presidents fielded questions from students at St. Petersburg State University, repeating a performance at a high school in Crawford, Texas, last November. "Remarkably, not a single questioner asked about the arms control treaty signed on Friday in Moscow," the NYT reports.
In its "Outlook" section, the Post also analyses how the U.S. traditionally has dealt with the hostilities between India and Pakistan. For more than a decade America has reacted "the way riot police respond to a bottle-breaking brawl between street gangs."
The LAT leads that California officials are planning tough new regulations to hold health insurers more accountable for paying doctors and hospitals on time. The proposals would crack down on a number of tactics that have been used to delay payments. "Too often they don't pay doctors on time, and that has an effect on patient care," the LAT quotes the director of the department of managed health care. The regulations are expected to be introduced this fall after a public comment period.
In the NYT fronter, the final moments across the top 19 floors of the north tower of the World Trade Center and the top 33 of the south are reconstructed from phone conversations and e-mail and voice messages. "At least 353 of those lost were able to reach people outside the towers," but "no single call can describe scenes that were unfolding at terrible velocities in many places," says the article.
A Post fronter describes how rebels in Sierra Leone would ask innocent villagers if they preferred a "short sleeve" (at the bicep) or a "long sleeve" (above the wrist) amputation. The 17- year-old profiled in the story had a "long sleeve." The story's 10-year-old is missing most of her left leg. While the children's U.S. sponsors are lobbying for permanent adoption, the government of Sierra Leone is lukewarm about the idea because "their parents do not support adoption ... they do not want a situation where the children do not remember they have parents," the Post quotes a government minister in Sierra Leone as saying.
The LAT takes a front-page look at the most recent sniping between the CIA and FBI, "the Capital's oldest back-fence feud." Those Washington standbys—finger-pointing and personal motives—threaten to scuttle reform efforts already underway. "What we've seen in the past two weeks is changing everything," the LAT quotes a Bush administration official as saying. "There will be more changes. It has made it apparent that we need to go deeper."
The Post also fronts a story on the CIA-FBI relationship but, on the whole, keys a more positive note. It focuses on FBI director Robert Mueller's plan to sharpen the bureau's counterterrorism departments. To that end, more than 25 agency analysts from the CIA will lend Mueller a hand.
According to a NYT fronter Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, is expected to win an easy victory when 1,500 of his countrymen gather next month to plan the nation's future. Karzai should retain the top spot for an additional 16 months because he has the backing of the former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, and has strengthened his ties with the former leaders of the Northern Alliance. This six-day meeting of elders, known as a loya jirga, or grand council, is a 300-year-old tradition. While many of the ethnic Pashtuns would like the see their former king restored to his throne, they're willing to accept any government he endorses.
The LAT seems more skeptical about Karzai's prospects and pays more attention to the political jockeying of three would-be kings, including Karzai, Shah, and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani. While the smart (international) money is on Karzai, the LAT notes that "Afghans are famous for resisting outside pressures and influences, leaving many here skeptical of what they see as a Western plot to empower Karzai."
The debate over human cloning is shifting to the states after nearly a year of emotional arguments in Congress have failed to produce any new federal laws, fronts the NYT. Already, six states have banned cloning, while 38 anti-cloning measures were introduced in 22 states this year. While the House passed a fairly strict ban on cloning last July, the Senate is torn between competing measures. "State-by-state legislation is something that I believe we need to do to make a statement," the Times quotes a Republican state legislator from Oklahoma as opining.
A Chinese airplane departing from Taipei for Hong Kong crashed into the Taiwan Straights with 225 passengers and crew on board, fronts the WP. Authorities doubt there are any survivors. Air traffic controllers said that the Boeing 747-200, one of the oldest planes in China Airlines' fleet, did not make any distress calls and simply disappeared from radar screens at 35,000 feet, leading to speculation that an abrupt explosion was the crash cause and not technical or mechanical problems. Wreckage debris is being collected in the ocean about 12 miles from the Penghu Islands, an archipelago 30 miles from the mainland. That places the crash in Taiwan waters, calculates the NYT. One Taiwanese fisherman heard a "big bang," "I thought it was mainland fishermen dynamiting fish," he said. In another transportation disaster, at least 205 people were killed and 400 injured in a train crash in Mozambique on Saturday, reports the LAT.
Time is relative: The LAT reports on the Pope's trip to Bulgaria where Orthodox Christian monks at a mountain sanctuary gave him a warm welcome. Bishop John, the head of the Rila monastery, put the ancient rift in perspective for the frail pontiff. "The split between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches has been ongoing for 10 centuries," he said. "But what is 10 centuries when ... in God's eyes, 1,000 years is like yesterday? The walls of separation do not reach heaven. Like any other work of man, they are temporary. They have been built by men, and men will be the ones to pull them down."