The Washington Post leads with Europe's stern warning to Iran that restarting its nuclear development program would bring serious diplomatic consequences, likely including a referral to the U.N. Security Council, which could then impose economic sanctions or even threaten force. Iranian officials, who have been in talks with Europe on the issue for almost two years, responded quickly that they would not yet activate the facility in question. The New York Times leads with the continuing violence in Iraq, where insurgent attacks yesterday killed 79 and wounded 120 in three cities. The current surge began two weeks ago and has already claimed more than 415 lives, including 14 U.S. soldiers since Saturday. The NYT calls the situation "an eruption of violence that has carried the insurgency to levels rarely seen in the 25 months since [the U.S.] seized Baghdad."
The Los Angeles Times leads with the Bush administration's CAFTA trade legislation facing "serious trouble" from almost all Democrats and several key Republicans. Critics of the plan cite inadequate worker and environmental protections for the Latin American countries involved, as well as the possibility of economic harm to American workers. USA Today leads with a scoop on a possibly fraudulent safety study of Tasers—the increasingly controversial police weapon that zaps perps with 50,000 volts of electricity. Shockingly, one of the advisers working on the study doubles as a paid consultant to Taser International. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with yesterday's air scare in Washington, where the Capitol and Executive Mansions were evacuated when an errant Cessna 150 wandered to within 3 miles of the White House. The pilots (one of them unlicensed) did not realize they were in the country's most restricted airspace until a pair of F-16s appeared to guide them out of it. Both the NYTand WP run the story front and center.
The Iranian government, whose presidential elections are next month, has been threatening for weeks to bring its nuclear program back online if progress isn't made in the talks. Europe has held out the possibility of "lucrative trade deals" (WP's words) in exchange for Iran's cooperation in dismantling its program, but negotiators have not been able to finalize an agreement. In a letter to a high-ranking Iranian official, France, Britain, and Germany vowed that the repercussions of a nuclear restart "could only be negative for Iran," a probable allusion to the Bush administration's hard-line stance on the issue.
In Iraq, Wednesday's deadliest attack was in Tikrit. Thirty-eight Shiite day-laborers were killed after insurgents parked a car in an area in where workers often gather. The attackers solicited some of the laborers then told them to wait near their car while they ran an errand. The vehicle exploded a few minutes later.
The LAT fronts a close-up of the U.S. offensive in western Iraq, where embedded reporter Solomon Moore describes the pandemonium after an amphibious transport carrying 18 Marines and a large cache of explosives ran over a bomb in the road. At least four troops appeared to have been killed in the blast, and several others seriously injured.
From the NYT and LAT: North Korea claims to have removed 8,000 spent fuel rods from a reactor at one of its nuclear sites for reprocessing into weapons-grade material. In a worst-case scenario offered in the article, the rods could provide enough plutonium for one to three nuclear weapons. However, experts doubt both North Korea's political credibility ("There is a lot of symbolism and taunting here," says one senior official) and its weapons development capability. Reprocessing is a highly complex and time-consuming process—it would take at least six months just for the rods to cool down enough to be usable.
The LATand WP front—and the NYT and USATreefer—Macauley Culkin's high-profile testimony that Michael Jackson did not molest him on any of the several occasions in which they slept in the same bed. The charges against Jackson, he said, were "absolutely ridiculous." Jurors were also shown hours of video interviews in which Jackson compared himself to Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Princess Diana. Since those people are dead, Jackson said, "there's not a voice for the voiceless, and I've been doing it for many years."
USAT fronts a report on the new trend among U.S. employers to discriminate against smokers. Citing rising health care costs—$75 billion annually goes to treating smoking-related illnesses—some businesses are now refusing to hire smokers, while others are terminating employees who test positive for nicotine in a urine test.
Confucius Play: One hundred and ten people won the PowerBall lottery after picking numbers they found inside fortune cookies. None of them won the jackpot, since the cookie only got five out of six numbers right, meaning the winners had to settle for six figures instead of eight. The cookies came from Wonton Foods in Long Island City, Queens, where workers pick the combinations by fishing paper slips from a bowl several times in a row. Derrick Wong, president of Wonton, said that for efficiency reasons, his company might soon begin choosing the numbers by computer instead.