The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with, and the Washington Post off-leads, the White House's latest bit of public diplomacy toward North Korea: President Bush said yesterday that if Pyongyang drops its nukes program, the White House just might offer a "bold initiative," presumably including economic aid and some sort of non-aggression deal. The WP's lead says that the number of U.S. and British airstrikes over the southern "no-flight-zone" has jumped since the past month. U.S. officials say that's only because Saddam is increasingly trying to shoot the planes down. But the Post suggests that the U.S. has made a few extra, unprovoked sorties targeting Iraqi air defenses. USA Today leads with a sort of counter-conventional wisdom piece: Despite all the talk about how states are in financial crises, tax revenues, on average, aren't declining; it's just that they're not growing as fast as the states had predicted (and budgeted for). In many states the expected cuts will only really be "cuts" when compared to planned spending, not to previous budgets.
As the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox highlights, China invited North Korean and the U.S. diplomats to come to Beijing and chat. The NYT says that the administration isn't into the offer, because it thinks China won't play hardball with Pyongyang. Instead, it prefers an Australian offer to mediate.
Bush's North Korea comments were similar to what Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly has been saying for a few days now. Of course, it means more coming from the chief, especially since some unnamed sources in the White House had complained that Kelly's comments were off-base.
The stand-off between the U.S. and North Korea seems to be coming down to the question of timing: The White House wants North Korea to commit to dismantling its nukes program—and not just refreeze it—before the U.S. will agree to carrots. North Korea wants the aid promised first. As the NYT emphasizes, that's where a third party can come in handy, giving cover so that neither side appears to be the first mover. The LAT, meanwhile, highlights conservatives' worries that Bush is caving in. "This is a policy Clinton would be proud of," said conservative activist Gary Bauer.
Most of the papers contrast Bush's supposedly Mr. Softie statements on North Korea with his tough talk on Iraq. "I'm sick and tired of games and deception," said Bush. "Time is running out on Saddam Hussein. He must disarm."
One quibble with the NYT's North Korea coverage: In referring to the country's nuke programs, the Times mentions North Korea's "newly discovered uranium enrichment effort." That's the secret program, you might remember, that Pyongyang copped to back in October. But as TP has noted before, the effort doesn't appear to have been so "newly discovered;" the White House seems to have had info about it for nearly two years (see here, here, and here).
A front-page WP piece says the president has decided to oppose a University of Michigan affirmative action program that's being challenged in the Supreme Court. The NYT, which off-leads the story, hedges a bit and says it's not clear yet what the White House's final position will be when it submits its brief to the court today. It might come out against any preference based on race or just against some types of programs.
The LAT fronts and the WP stuffs President Bush's public pitch yesterday for lawmakers to support his proposal to toughen work requirements for welfare recipients: The Post simplyplays the political game angle, pondering Bush's chances for success. The LAT had the more useful, substantive piece, detailing how the proposal might affect state's welfare programs. In order for the proposal to work, state officials said, they'd need more money for things like child care. Bush isn't proposing any funding increases.
The LAT and NYT both front the FDA's decision to suspend 27 gene therapy trials after a child in France apparently developed leukemia from such treatment.
The LAT reefers a new study showing that abortion rates in the U.S. are continuing to drop, as they have for the past 20 years. There were 21.3 abortions per 1,000 women in 2000, and 29.3 per 1,000 in 1996. Researchers said they don't know the reason for the dip but guessed it's due to improved contraceptives (which doesn't seem to be a good explanation for the whole 20 years).
A front-page piece in the WP says the White House has put together a taskforce to figure out how to thwart attacks on airliners by shoulder-launched missiles. One of the group's first steps will be to start educating the public about how to identify the things. (TP tip: They look like bazookas—or, say, shoulder-launched missiles—and if you see somebody pointing one at a plane, consider calling 911.)