The New York Timesand Los Angeles Timeslead with word that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is moving toward endorsing the U.S.-backed Middle East peace plan that would create a Palestinian state. USA Todayleads with news of the $320 billion tax cut package rolling toward Congressional approval and expected to take effect this summer, much to the delight of President Bush. (According to the LAT and other early morning reports, the House approved the tax cut in the wee hours as expected.) The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with the 14-0 United Nations Security Council vote (Syria was absent) to immediately end sanctions against Iraq, enabling resumption of Iraqi oil exports within a few weeks. The Washington Post leads, a day late, with an Associated Press report on Wednesday's 6.8-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 1,092 and injured 6,782.
Details are vague about Sharon's apparent backing of the peace plan. According to the LAT, Sharon "reluctantly agreed" to take the plan to a Cabinet vote this weekend as a trade for a U.S. promise to consider Israeli objections to the so-called road map. The Post stuffs the story and says that the Bush administration has "acceded to Israel's demands that a U.S.-backed peace plan be subjected to significant revisions." The NYT reports "the wording of Mr. Sharon's endorsement of the peace plan ... was not disclosed." When revealed, it should be pretty interesting, considering Israel has been at odds with many parts of the plan. For example: Israel has been demanding a ban on the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees who fled at the founding of Israel, while Secretary of State Colin Powell has specifically rejected that request. The LAT reports that the real progress occurred during talks between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weisglass. The agreement between the two has "very creative wordsmith-ship," an "Israeli source in Washington" tells the LAT. Among other points, negotiators have been urging Israel to withdraw from Gaza; release some Palestinian prisoners; and dismantle illegal Jewish settlements, which most observers regard as the stickiest wicket.
Everybody but USAT notes that France's endorsement of the Security Council measure doesn't ease the crankiness of U.S. officials over lack of support in the past. In Paris for the first time since the war, Powell said at a press conference, "Does it mean that the disagreements of the past are totally forgotten? No. Let's not paper it over and pretend it didn't happen—it happened."
Everybody agrees that the tax cut and Security Council vote are big scores for Bush. In a front-page news analysis the NYT's David E. Rosenbaum points out that though the official tax bill price tag is barely two-fifths of the $726 billion initial proposal by Bush, if it's calculated on a 10-year basis and assumed that the sunset clauses will be repealed (yesterday's papers and TP explained that that's likely), the cost in lost revenue is actually over $800 billion.
Of course, Bush's victories on the domestic and foreign fronts don't necessarily qualify the rest of us as winners. As a WP editorial puts it, the tax cut is either "among the most dishonest, gimmick-laden tax packages in history—in which case its true cost is far more than advertised. Or the bill's provisions really will take effect and then quickly fade away—in which case its economic value is far less than promised. Either way, it manages, rather impressively, to be more skewed to the wealthy than President Bush's original proposal."
The WSJ reports that Saddam Hussein's oldest sun, Odai, is hiding in a Baghdad suburb and is negotiating his surrender with U.S. forces. The paper cites "a third party with knowledge of the discussions."
All the papers note the retirement of Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Everybody names Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, an Arabic speaker who is the No. 2 officer at Central Command, as a possible successor. The NYT also mentions Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of ground forces in Iraq, as a contender. The LAT reports that Franks' other deputy, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong, is another candidate.
The Post, NYT and USAT all front excited dispatches on the first round of the first woman to golf in a PGA Tour event in 58 years. Annika Sorenstam's 1-over-par 71 performance left her in the bottom half of the field, but no one seemed to care.
Nothing to Bragg about ... There's apparently quite a bit of better-late-than-never fact-checking going on at The New York Times these days. In an editor's note, the papercorrects the record on a story that ran June 15 with the byline of superstar Rick Bragg and the dateline of Apalachicola, Fla. Oops! After a review of the article that took place "in response to a reader's letter," the Times learned that "while Mr. Bragg indeed visited Apalachicola briefly and wrote the article, the interviewing and reporting on the scene were done by a freelance journalist, J. Wes Yoder," a reporter for Alabama's Anniston Star, the paper where Bragg got his start. The Times concludes Bragg should've shared the credit with the younger Alabaman.