Surprise Inspections

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 18 2002 5:20 AM

Surprise Inspections

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today lead with international reaction to Iraq's announcement Monday that it will unconditionally permit U.N. arms inspectors back into the country. The Washington Post leads with a leak that the Pentagon is planning to restructure its chain of command to give special operations forces more authority. The Los Angeles Times leads with the agreement from congressional Democrats to vote on an Iraq resolution before the November elections.

The NYT, USAT, and WSJ say Iraq's concession threatens to take the wind out of President Bush's efforts to secure U.N. approval for military action against Saddam Hussein. Everybody reports that Russia and France gave indications yesterday that Iraq's new position has obviated the need for a new security council resolution (the NYT adds China to that list but doesn't back it up with a quote or paraphrase from any Chinese official). The Bush administration says Iraq can't be trusted and that a new resolution spelling out use of force is still required. Both USAT and the NYT (in a related news analysis) note that, if the inspections go forward, the delay could foul up the U.S. war plan—an invasion is only feasible in January or February when the Iraqi desert is cool enough for U.S. troops to operate in chemical and biological protective gear.

The LAT says Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., has shifted his position on Iraq and agreed to hold a vote on the matter before November. Daschle previously voiced skepticism about Bush's requests for quick congressional authorization to move on Iraq, but he now says that, although there is still no "conclusive evidence" that Iraq is an immediate threat, most of his concerns have been met. The White House wants an open-ended resolution with no strings attached; many Democrats want to authorize force only on the condition that the U.N. agrees.

The WP says the Pentagon's Special Operations Command will soon undergo a major restructuring to put much of the global war on terrorism under its authority. (The LAT goes inside with the same story, crediting the WP for the scoop.) Currently, the command is responsible for training and equipping special operations soldiers, who are then farmed out to regional commanders to conduct missions. Under the new proposal, the Special Operations Command could directly oversee some of its own missions, transferring much of the responsibility for the clandestine war against terrorism from Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, to Special Operations Command chief Gen. Charles R. Holland. The story also notes that the Pentagon has quietly stationed more than 500 special operations troops in the African nation of Djibouti, to keep them near such potential hot spots as Yemen and Somalia. (The NYT goes inside with a story about the troops in Djibouti but notes only in passing that Donald Rumsfeld has been discussing an expanded role for special operations troops with his commanders.)

Everybody but USAT fronts the historic meeting yesterday between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, wherein Kim admitted that North Korean operatives were responsible for a string of kidnappings of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s and apologized. The numbers are unclear—the NYT and WSJ say 11 were kidnapped and five are still alive; the LAT and WP say 12 were kidnapped and four are alive—but all the papers say the victims were forced to teach North Korean spies about Japanese language and culture. Koizumi responded by offering to normalize diplomatic relations with North Korea and promising an aid program that could total $10 billion. Everybody but the NYT says that Kim promised Koizumi he would allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to scrutinize North Korea's nuclear program—curiously, the NYT says there was "no mention" of the inspectors. Most curious of all, though, is this parenthetical statement about Kim Jong Il, completely unrelated to the aforementioned kidnappings and dropped into the WSJ story without any further elaboration: "Mr. Kim is believed to be behind a string of kidnappings of Japanese B-movie actresses."

The LAT fronts a profile of Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh, one of Attorney General John Ashcroft's chief advisors. Dinh, a Vietnamese refugee who arrived in the U.S. at age 10 and worked picking strawberries as a child, is the legal mind behind John Ashcroft's efforts to expand law enforcement prerogatives after Sept. 11—he was the chief architect of the USA Patriot Act. His background—from impoverished boat person to constitutional scholar—makes him a compelling public figure in the Justice Department, but critics say he tramples civil liberties and fault him for political ambition. Democrats have nicknamed him "Viet Spin."

The WP fronts the debacle at Monday night's NFL game in Washington, D.C. A brawl erupted in the stands, and when a police officer used pepper spray to break it up, some of the noxious vapor got caught up by the powerful blowers used to cool players on the sidelines, which sprayed it all over the visiting Philadelphia Eagles bench. Several Eagles got sick from the spray and were treated on the sidelines with oxygen and wet towels. "Between the fight ... and our guys puking, man," one Eagles official told the paper, "it looked like Dante's Inferno."

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