USA Today leads with—and everybody fronts—new North Korean threats to test a nuclear weapon in response to perceived hostility from the Bush administration. The Washington Post leads with the presentation of a nine-volume document by a government-appointed commission, which concluded that more than 69,000 Peruvians died or disappeared in the country's civil war between 1980 and 2000—more than twice the previous estimates. The New York Times leads with a statement by the top American commander for Iraq that there is no need to bring more American troops to the troubled country. The Los Angeles Times leads with the latest recall action: California Gov. Gray Davis and others are angling for the support of Native American tribes, while Arnold Schwarzenegger is on the defensive about a 1977 interview in which he mentioned engaging in group sex.
The latest North Korean brouhaha arose when, during a meeting in Beijing with officials from the U.S. and four other countries, a North Korean delegate announced that Pyongyang had "no choice but to declare its possession of nuclear weapons" and "conduct a nuclear weapons test," according to the WP. While no reporters appear to have been on hand to hear this, they cite unnamed U.S. officials, and the Post says its quotes are from a cable from the U.S. negotiating team. Everyone notes the disconnect between the U.S. official reaction and the apparent shock expressed by other diplomats at the meeting: While a Bush spokeswoman called the talks "positive," sources said that delegates present were visibly upset. Pretty much everyone agrees, though, that this will lead nowhere good: The NYT even hypothesizes that a test could lead to the U.S. seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution, which could lead to sanctions, which North Korea would consider an act of war.
The Peruvian report, based on 17,000 interviews in 530 villages, holds the Shining Path—a radical Maoist group—responsible for more than half of the deaths, but it doesn't let Peru's leaders off the hook. As the president of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said in a ceremony Thursday: "This report exposes a double scandal—the killings, disappearances and torture on a huge scale, and the indolence, ineptitude and indifference by those able to intervene in this human catastrophe and who did not."
Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, waved off calls by American lawmakers to increase American troops in Iraq beyond the current 140,000, suggesting instead that Muslim allies send in more peacekeepers.
Everybody fronts the Port Authority's release of the dramatic transcripts of 260 hours of radio transmissions and phone calls made from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. The New York Times requested copies of the records from the Port Authority a year and a half ago and eventually sued the agency for their release. The Port Authority agreed to the release and then backed out; only last week did a New Jersey judge rule that they had to fork over the transcripts. They did so and encouraged media to use restraint in reporting details. We don't know what the papers left out (the reports aren't available to the public), but everybody includes harrowing excerpts.
The LAT, NYT, and Post run Page One stories on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's testimony at a judicial inquiry that he did not embellish Iraq's arsenal when making a case for war. Though scolded by opposition leaders, Blair maintained his defense, saying that if the accusations of exaggeration were true, "it would have merited my resignation." In an editorial, the NYT calls his argument "spirited but unconvincing."
Everyone stuffs the World Trade Organization's last-minute delay in approving an agreement to help poor nations buy generic medicines through new exemptions from trade rules. The United States has reversed its opposition to the decision; in December, it had single-handedly blocked the adoption of such a rule. While the Wall Street Journal giddily views the near-approval as a sign that "poor nations are making strides and wielding more clout," others are less optimistic. The Associated Press story in USAT quotes a representative of Oxfam, an international poverty-relief group, who says there's so much red tape built into the bargain that even if approved, poor people are no better off and "thousands of people would continue to die unnecessarily."
USAT fronts word that U.S. investigators have found evidence that someone violated U.N. sanctions and U.S. customs rules and sold Iraq high-tech hardware made by at least 30 American companies. They're still trying to figure out if the booty was sold by the companies themselves (which investigators don't name) or by middlemen.
The University of Michigan unveiled a new admissions policy yesterday that maintains affirmative action but applies it less strictly. The new application asks prospective students to write an essay on diversity.
The WP's Dana Milbank reports on how the White House press corps can't report on the off-the-record barbecue they all attended at President Bush's ranch on Wednesday night. Milbank does manage to quote some unnamed reporters trying to cozy up to the commander in chief, and remarks on the origins of Bush's nickname for the family swimming pool—he calls it the "Whining Pool" because he built it to keep his daughters from moaning.