The Washington Post leads with word that the United States has approached Iran about a humanitarian mission to Tehran. It would be the first official, public U.S. visit to the country since Iranian students held 52 Americans hostage from 1979 to 1981. The New York Times leads an interview with Libya's prime minister in which he warns that Libya may not pay the remainder of what it owes to the families of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 if the U.S. refuses to lift sanctions by May 12. The Los Angeles Times leads with the increased security precautions being taken at airports. Acting on intelligence obtained by U.S. officials, British Airways canceled two flights between London and Washington D.C. yesterday, bringing to 10 the number of flights that have been canceled, delayed, or tailed by fighter jets for security reasons over the holidays. USA Today leads with North Korea's decision to allow a U.S. delegation to visit the country's main nuclear complex next week. The trip, which has not been announced, would mark outsiders' first glimpse of the complex since North Korea banished U.N. inspectors a year ago.
The humanitarian mission, which would be headed by Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., and would include a Bush family member, would bring aid for survivors of last week's earthquake, which killed more than 28,000 Iranians and destroyed the ancient city of Bam. Although U.S. officials insist the visit will be purely humanitarian, the offer appears to signal a further thaw in relations between the two countries, which have recently bridged some of their differences over a number of issues, including Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.
The warning from Shukri Ghanim, the Libyan prime minister, comes not long after last month's announcement that Libya would give up its own secret weapons program. The victims' families stand to lose more than $6 million each should Libya refuse to continue the payments. Ghanim also said in the interview that Libya would like to be compensated for handing over certain nuclear materials, "just as he understands some former Soviet states have been compensated for cooperating with such removals." If you want to know whether or not Ghamin "understands" correctly, you're going to have to look elsewhere—the Times doesn't confirm or deny his claim.
The new homicide numbers are out, and, at least for the residents of Chicago, Washington, and New Orleans, they ain't pretty. Chicago had 599 murders in 2003, more than any other city, while D.C. and New Orleans led all large and small cities, respectively, in the per capita homicide rate. WP points out that the situation in the nation's capital is still far better than it was just 10 years ago, when the city was embroiled in a crack cocaine epidemic. Washington and Chicago did have fewer killings this past year than in 2002, and St. Louis reported its lower murder total in more than 40 years.
LAT claims that, after an initial boom following the passage of NAFTA 10 years ago, the Mexican economy has gone "bust." The paper says that even as Mexico flourished in the 1990s, too little attention was paid to a number of underlying problems, including a troubled educational system. Many observers feel that the country's economy presently has little hope of emerging from the purgatory it entered when the U.S. dragged it into recession more than three years ago.
WP fronts a long, well-researched, and slightly intimidating piece on how, exactly, to go about prosecuting Saddam Hussein. Human rights groups believe that as many as 300,000 people died as a result of the orders of Saddam and his subordinates, and the best strategy for a conviction seems to be establishing Saddam's command responsibility in the Iraqi government. Among the most likely prosecutorial targets: the 1987-88 Anfal campaign, in which tens of thousands of Kurds died; a chemical attack on the town of Halabja that killed 5,000; the murder of between 30,000 and 60,000 Shiite Muslims at the end of the first Gulf War; and the massacre of 8,000 members of the Barzani clan in 1983.
NYT fronts a piece discussing the small but growing resistance being put up by educators frustrated with the No Child Left Behind Act. Many school systems say that provisions designed to improve student achievement in the legislation are too expensive and cumbersome to implement, and some observers believe recent complaints mark the first signs of a larger backlash that will emerge in the coming year as the law is implemented on the local level.
The ballad of the rhinestone-adorned. Mike Allen got to hang out in Crawford, Texas, for the New Year, but he wants us to know we didn't miss much:
The president is very much a creature of habit, so the locals assumed he would stick to his two-year tradition of making a New Year's Eve stop at the Coffee Station, Crawford's diner/gas station/souvenir hut. More than 70 parties ranging from two to 10 people lined up starting at 10 a.m., hoping to watch Bush wolf down his usual cheeseburger with onion rings, and maybe even see first lady Laura Bush dig into a cheeseburger with fried jalapeño peppers. But their neighbor stood them up, leaving several rhinestone-adorned women holding their "Bush Won" signs with no one to autograph them.