Everybody leads with Iraq's announcement that it will allow the return of weapons inspectors "without conditions." The declaration, which came in the form of a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, also said that inspectors should respect "the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Iraq" and that "practical arrangements" will have to be worked out. The White House dismissed the offer. "This is a tactical step by Iraq in hopes of avoiding strong U.N. Security Council action," said a White House spokesman. "As such, it is a tactic that will fail."
The Wall Street Journal says that Iraq's careful wording is likely a tip-off to Saddam's desire to negotiate over things like access to his presidential palaces. The Los Angeles Times,however, simply says that the administration "portrayed" that language as the basis for a "potential quagmire." The Journal also explains exactly how Iraq's announcement is a change: Saddam had earlier argued that he would only accept inspectors if they came as part of a comprehensive deal that included negotiations over an end to sanctions.
The LAT adds that the administration is "scrapping" the idea of so-called coercive inspections and is instead going to push for a "one-strike policy," which would entail ending inspections—and beginning military strikes—after the first time Saddam blocks inspectors.
The New York Times focuses on the dispute between France and the U.S. over whether there should be one U.N. resolution on Iraq, as the U.S. prefers, or whether their should be two: The first demanding the return of inspectors, and then another taking up the issue of military action.
USA Today goes inside with a surprisingly strongly worded piece that argues, as the headline puts it, "U.S. INTELLIGENCE ASSERTIONS GO BEYOND ITS INTELLIGENCE." The article pounces on the administration for trying to link al-Qaida and Saddam "even though U.S. intelligence reports raise doubts about such links." The story also says that when it comes to evaluating Iraq's weapons programs, White House officials "draw the most pessimistic conclusions" from what is "ambiguous evidence."
The NYT fronts, and Washington Post stuffs, news that the U.S. and British planes patrolling Iraq's no-fly zone have recently widened their target list to include major air defense command sites. As the papers note, defanging Saddam's air defense network now could prove very useful in any coming invasion. According to the Times, U.S. planes have bombed five Iraqi targets in the past 10 days (about 35 planes took part in a raid yesterday). The NYT adds, though, that the number of sorties overall this year is still about on par with the number flown last year.
The papers all go high with word that the self-described "coordinator" of the Sept. 11 attacks, Ramzi Binalshibh, and four of his buddies (bodyguards, apparently) were handed over by Pakistani police to the U.S. yesterday. Everybody says that the men are being sent to an undisclosed third country (via "an unmarked CIA plane," says the WP). The NYT says that "some officials" said Binalshibh is going to ultimately end up at Guantanamo Bay. The LAT, though, cites anonymous officials as saying he's not going there. Instead, they said, he'll likely be hanging out at a U.S. base in Afghanistan, at least for while. The administration said that President Bush hasn't decided yet whether he'll classify Binalshibh as a military combatant, though the NYT suggests that's what is going to happen.
Everybody notes inside that Singapore announced the arrest of 21 men they said are members of a Southeast Asian Islamic extremist group linked to al-Qaida that had been planning terror attacks, potentially against U.S. targets.
The LAT fronts, and others stuff, news that the SEC has launched what it calls an "informal investigation" into the boat-load of formerly undisclosed retirement perks that were given to former GE CEO Jack Welch. Meanwhile, Welch said yesterday that he has agreed to give up most of the goodies, which included a swanky apartment, use of a private jet, and free flowers. (Read a complete list of Jack's perks.)
Meanwhile, the papers note that Tyco disclosed yesterday that it has given hundreds of millions of dollars worth of previously undisclosed perks to top employees.
The WP fronts a piece saying that the administration has been rejiggering the government's scientific advisory panels in a bid to make sure that they keep in line with the White House's stated positions. The Post says that a few of the panels, which are supposed to provide advice to the Health and Human Services secretary, have actually been shuttered after they've taken positions that are different from those of the administration.
It once was lost, but now is found ... According to a correction in the WP, "A Sept. 15 article incorrectly reported where Yemen is located. It borders on the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea."