The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide news box lead with word from the head of the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency accusing North Korea of "nuclear brinkmanship" in the country's move toward reactivating a nuclear complex in Yongbyon, 50 miles north of the capital city of Pyongyang. The Washington Post leads with Iraq's agreement to hand over to U.N. inspectors a list with the names of hundreds of Iraqi weapons scientists and also says that these scientists will be free to leave the country, if they choose. Iraq, however, says "it's not necessary." The New York Times leads with early retail sales estimates of the pre-Christmas period. Wal-Mart, Federated Department Stores, Best Buy, and others, all report sluggish growth, the worst in years, as these same retail outlets now prepare to offer huge discounts to shoppers. USA Today goes with word that a coalition of leading civil rights, religious, and labor groups plan to ask new Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to include policy changes in the Republican's legislative agenda.
The papers note that the Yongbyon nuclear plant was originally closed in 1994, under a deal with the Clinton administration whereby North Korea agreed to halt its plutonium-based weapons development program in exchange for shipments of fuel oil. Yesterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that North Korea moved 1,000 fuel rods back into the facility and obstructed the lenses on U.N. surveillance cameras there. On North Korean radio, the government issued a statement denying its nuclear plans, saying the country was "peace-loving," and that the plant would be used to generate electricity. Nevertheless, North Korea was given strong rebukes yesterday by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
North Korea may be engaging the U.S. in a "tense chess game," as the NYT writes, in order to extract concessions at the negotiating table, the WSJ ventures, but the nuclear facility still needs 7,000-8,000 fuel rods to stand a chance at being operational. The NYT (which merely reefers the story) also briefly mentions Japanese nuclear scientists who theorize that a decadelong shutdown could render the nuclear plant useless.
The WP isn't alone in covering Iraq's latest concession, but it is the only paper to read an Iraqi official's words yesterday as an indication that Iraq has made the decision to let Iraqi scientists leave the country. "It's up to them. You can ask the scientists one by one," the WP quotes Gen. Hussam Mohammed Amin, head of the National Monitoring Directorate and a weapons specialist, as saying, "I'm one of them. I can answer you on my case only. I will not go."
USAT says that civil rights groups want Frist to oppose five of President Bush's 15 federal judicial nominees on the basis of "records of deep hostility to core civil rights principles," support legislation encouraging the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, and support funds for election reforms like new voting procedures. USAT says some Republicans have already said that the Lott incident shouldn't disrupt the party's conservative legislative priorities.
The NYT lead is essentially the same story it ran Wednesday in its business section. Except that, despite what the paper actually says, the new figures could be cause for stating that data turned out to be better than expected. On Wednesday, the NYT headlined, HOLIDAY SALES MAY CLIMB AN ANEMIC 1% THIS YEAR. Today, the paper's most pessimistic number pegs overall growth at 1.5 percent.
The WP fronts news that Israeli troops killed nine Palestinians in raids in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip yesterday. The paper refers to yesterday as "Bloody Thursday" in its headline. The killings occurred as the result of seven separate attacks, and Israeli officials said the high death total was coincidental, and not "targeted killings." "A lot of them resisted arrest or opened fire," said Capt. Jacob Dallal, an Israeli military spokesman. Palestinians and human rights officials say at least three civilian bystanders were killed.
The NYT has an interesting story that it reefers. The Department of Health and Human Services has made some subtle changes in the information it disseminates in what the paper describes as a way the "Bush administration can satisfy conservative constituents with relatively little exposure." Examples include the National Cancer Institute's Web page, which used to read that the best studies showed "no association between abortion and breast cancer," but now says evidence is inconclusive. Or the Web page for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which used to say that education about condom use did not lead to earlier or increased sexual activity, and now says nothing.
At least for today, the papers shrug off news that the first cloned human may have been produced. A professor of chemistry at Hamilton College in Upstate New York is claiming that she and her company have given birth to a clone. A press conference is scheduled in Florida soon, and video equipment and DNA testing will be given as proof. The WP runs a 165-word AP report on Page 9, and the NYT stuffs the story with this lede: "A religious sect that contends that space travelers created the human race by cloning themselves said yesterday that it would announce today that the first cloned human baby had been born."
How Much Does Tiny Tim Get? … All the papers give prominent coverage and kudos to Andrew J. Whittaker Jr., the West Virginian contractor who won the $314.9 million Powerball jackpot, the largest single lottery jackpot in history. In reality, Mr. Whittaker won't be taking home $314.9 million. He has elected to take the lump-sum payout of $170.5 million, instead of 30 yearly payments. After taxes, he'll get $113.4 million. He also wants to give three pastors around town $19 million, paring his take-home earnings to $94.4 million. And some of that, he says, will be used to give work back to the 25 employees he fired before Christmas from the three construction businesses he owns, including one, the NYT reports as an aside, making $17 million-a-year.