The Los Angeles Times leads, in a banner headline, with the late-breaking news that North Korea will abandon its nuclear weapons program: The final editions of the Washington Post (at least online) and the New York Times lead similarly. The early editions both led with the news that the German election failed to produce a clear winner, news that also tops the Wall Street Journal world-wide news box. USA Today leads with word that the prospect of a safe return to New Orleans remains uncertain.
North Korea pledged to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Six-nation negotiations, led by China, yielded a draft agreement in which North Korea agreed to scrap its existing nuclear weapons, rejoin the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and submit to nuclear inspections. In return, the U.S. and other countries will provide aid and security guarantees. The U.S. and North Korea agreed to respect each other's sovereignty and will seek to normalize relations. The negotiations had stumbled over a North Korean demand for a light-water nuclear reactor. The U.S. still rejects that demand but is allowing for the possibility of a peaceful nuclear energy program down the line.
It's still unclear who will be the next chancellor of Germany, although both main candidates are claiming victory. Voters spurned the Social-Democratic incumbent, who lost the majority his party previously enjoyed. But the Christian-Democratic challenger, who won the greatest number of votes, also failed to win a majority. The NYT calls the development "highly surprising." In the next few days, the parties will try to form a governing coalition.
USAT leads with, and the LAT and NYT front, the news that the mayor of New Orleans disagrees with a Coast Guard official on whether it's safe to return to the ravaged city. The mayor plans to return a third of the population to New Orleans over the next week. But the Coast Guard official, who's heading the federal response to Katrina, says he'll warn the mayor that the city is not yet safe. Among the problems he cites: The city's water is mostly undrinkable; the floodwaters may turn toxic; hospitals aren't yet working; there's no emergency warning system; and the levees are weakened and might break.
Meanwhile, the NYT notes that President Clinton criticized the Bush administration's response to the hurricane, saying, "You can't have an emergency plan that works if it only affects middle-class people up."
While officials argued over safety, hundreds of residents returned to New Orleans, reports the WP. Meanwhile, reports the LAT, "the federal government's chief argument for slowing down—the possibility of another storm—was bolstered" by the news that tropical storm Rita may pass over the Gulf Coast, a frightening scenario given that "the levees in New Orleans are in a severely degraded state."
The NYT fronts, the WP teases, and the LAT and USAT stuff news that Afghans voted, by the millions, despite militant attacks, threats from the Taliban, and confusing ballots. Results will be available next month. USAT and the WP emphasize the peacefulness of the proceedings. Violence before the voting killed 15 people, but the spectacular attack the Taliban threatened failed to materialize, and most voting went smoothly. The WSJ headline emphasizes low turnout, citing an estimate that puts it at 30 to 35 percent of those registered, and arguing that voters were probably deterred by surging Taliban violence, which has killed 1,200 people in the last six months. The others papers are more sanguine, like the NYT, which estimates 50 percent turnout and cites officials who say that "the turnout reflected voter confusion over the 5,800 candidates, not intimidation." Either way, the elections marked a historic moment. "After 30 years of wars, interventions, occupations, and misery, today Afghanistan is moving forward," said President Hamid Karzai.
The WP fronts word that the U.S. military, counting the number of enemy dead, is declaring "great successes" in Iraq, claiming that U.S. forces are gaining on Abu Musab al Zarqawi and his fighters. But since recent insurgent suicide bombings and car bombings have been increasingly deadly, the WP points out, Zarqawi's group "could claim to be the side that's gaining." The military made the claim, the WP notices, after the bloodiest two days in Baghdad since the invasion.
The WSJ teases news that months before Katrina hit, local, state, and federal officials received a partially completed strategic plan "to respond to a Katrina-like hurricane," based on a mock disaster exercise funded by FEMA. Two hundred pages of preliminary recommendations were delivered to FEMA and other agencies, including the warning that tens of thousands of people would require bus and air evacuation. The report also advised that since available transportation would limit the number who could evacuate, "delivery of water and possibly food to victims ... will be crucial to minimize deaths" among those remaining. While the plan was incomplete and imperfect when the storm hit, it could have been used as "Version 1.0 of an action plan."
Following the revelation that Iran will not rein in its nuclear program, the WP stuffs a piece of news analysis arguing that the likely effect will be "a toughening of the international response to Iran." Iran will probably be given a few weeks to reverse course "or face the consequences of Security Council action."
Lowering the bar … Alcohol-industry watchdog groups are up in arms over "Kidsbeer," a "lager-colored" soft drink from Japan that "foams like beer" but "tastes like cola." But the manufacturer believes there's a Western market for it and plans to bring it to Europe. After all, warns the cheerful slogan, "Even kids cannot stand life unless they have a drink."