The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today lead with the word from the White House that a North Korean emissary recently told the administration that his country has, contrary to previous reports, been working to develop nuclear weapons. The diplomat also told the U.S. that North Korea has "other more powerful things as well," presumably a reference to chemical or biological weapons. The admission, which the papers say came 12 days ago, means that North Korea is in violation of a 1994 deal with the U.S. in which it promised to end its nuke program in return for foreign aid. The Washington Post's early edition leads with word that police said that witnesses have conflicting recollections of what the D.C.-area sniper looks like, so police aren't putting out a sketch. "The only common denominator thus far is male," said the spokeswoman. The final edition of the WP leads with North Korea.
The WP'ssubhead describes the White House as "stunned," while the other papers downplay the administration's surprise. Everybody says that North Korea made the admission only after U.S. diplomats presented them with evidence of the nuke program.
The NYT says it's not clear whether North Korea has nukes yet. But the WP mentions that a CIA report from last year estimated that Korea likely made one or two plutonium-based nukes in the mid-1990s. This new disclosure apparently involves a separate, uranium-based, program.
No one is sure why North Korea made the admission, which the White House conveyed to reporters via a conference call. It could be part of the country's emerging policy of acknowledging uncomfortable facts—such as its kidnapping of Japanese citizens. But everybody says that the Korean official who made the disclosure didn't apologize and was, as one unnamed U.S. put it, "aggressive about it." One theory, mentioned up high by USAT, is that North Korea is trying to extract concessions from the U.S. and is betting that the White House will give in since it won't want to open up a second front on the "axis of evil." That may work. "We seek a peaceful resolution to this situation," one unnamed administration official told the NYT.
The NYT speculates that the White House waited 12 days before saying anything because it wants to keep Iraq job No. 1 and thus wanted to downplay this disclosure. Other bits along those lines that the paper doesn't mention: Just about every quote from the White House is on background and attributed to unnamed officials; President Bush didn't say anything about the disclosure. Also, according to some of TP's editor-type friends, the White House told reporters at about 7 p.m., too late for the network news.
The LAT off-leads what may be a big scoop: According to the paper, the U.S. has "bowed to pressure from France and Russia" and offered a compromise resolution on Iraq. If France agrees to a resolution demanding unfettered access and threatening unspecified "consequences," the U.S. will promise not to strike until after it goes back to the U.N. to seek the Security Council's thumbs-up. But should the U.N. dilly-dally, then, according to the proposal, the U.S. might still attack. The paper says that U.S. officials are sure this is gonna seal the deal: "The paint has finally dried," said one U.S. diplomat. French officials, who declined to comment, may give an answer today.
Everybody has late-breaking wire stories on a bomb that exploded at a mall in the southern Philippines, killing at least two and injuring at least 100. (More recent reports say five were killed.) The attack happened in the city of Zamboanga, where a bomb killed a U.S. soldier last month.
The Post and NYT note inside that the Council on Foreign Relations, a respected policy group, is issuing a report today charging that Saudi Arabia hasn't cracked down on al-Qaida funding. The White House called the report a "Clinton-era snapshot" of al-Qaida's money operation.
The papers all go inside with a sign of easing hostilities on the subcontinent: India announced it's pulling some of its troops back from the border with Pakistan.
The NYT off-leads news that the Senate approved a bill to overhaul the country's voting procedures. The bill, which the House has already passed, authorizes nearly $4 billion to help counties update their voting systems and sets minimum standards for election procedures. The Times reminds that there's no guarantee that all that dough will actually come through, since Congress has yet to pass its big appropriation bills.
Everybody notes that former Enron accounting firm Arthur Andersen was sentenced to five years probation for obstruction of justice. The company will have to report each week to its probation officer and take vocational-training courses. OK, the sentence means that Andersen, which has already shuttered its auditing business and laid off most of its employees, will, if it's around, face tight court oversight courts for years. (Here's a Slate story explaining how a company can be convicted of a crime.)