Iran's decision to discuss Iraqi violence.

Iran's decision to discuss Iraqi violence.

Iran's decision to discuss Iraqi violence.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 17 2006 5:28 AM

Talking to Tehran

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with news that Iran agreed to a U.S. proposal to hold talks on ways to stop violence in Iraq. This small seed of rapprochement was sown on the same day that the administration's new national-security strategy named Iran the country that poses the biggest challenge to the United States. The Washington Post leads with Congress voting to increase the federal government's debt ceiling by $781 billion. The debt limit now stands at a shade under $9 trillion. USA Today leads with a cover package assessing three years' worth of war in Iraq. A specially commissioned poll finds, among other things, that 60 percent of Americans think the war wasn't "worth it."

Barring any changes of heart, Iran will send representatives to Iraq to meet with American Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad to discuss how to curb sectarian violence. Although the talks would mark the first formal contact between the two governments since the start of the Iraq war, neither side seemed too enthusiastic about their immediate prospects. The U.S. does not trust the hard-line, anti-Israel Ahmadinejad government, while Iran resents America's interference with its nascent nuclear program. Administration officials fell over themselves to make clear that the talks would not touch on nuclear issues—but it's also clear that Iran hopes that this will open the door to further negotiations.

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The papers are all over the place in their coverage. The WSJ is pessimistic about the talks' efficacy, while the LAT takes a decidedly enthusiastic tone. The NYT and the WP pieces both boast interviews with Ali Larijani, the Iranian official who made the announcement; Larijani comes off as levelheaded and diplomatic in the WP piece, and somewhat dogmatically sinister in the NYT. This all just goes to underscore that nobody's quite sure what the talks signify.

In a flurry of spending Thursday, Congress passed a $2.8 trillion budget, raised the debt ceiling by $781 billion, and voted over $100 billon to various programs, everyone reports. Where's the money coming from? Not from corresponding budget cuts. The votes came a week after Republican leaders met in Memphis and pledged a return to their party's keystone principles of budgetary minimalism. "All the talk in Memphis doesn't comport with the reality of these important programs," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa. That muffled chuckling you hear is barely contained Democratic election-year glee.

Everyone reports that the U.S. military launched a sizable attack on insurgents near Samarra, deploying soldiers from helicopters in what was called the largest air assault since 2003. The assault came on the same day of the new Iraqi parliament's opening. As is customary, the country's oldest lawmaker gave a speech, in which he urged his peers to avoid stumbling on the road to democracy.

Iraqi Kurds torched and destroyed a monument commemorating a 1988 poison gas attack in a spontaneous protest against the regional government, the NYT reports. The riot occurred on the 18th anniversary of the attack in an apparent attempt to keep the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan from exploiting the anniversary for political purposes. Although Kurdish officials tried to blame outside agitators, some protesters cited simpler motives: "After 18 years, Halabja is still full of debris from the war, we don't even have decent roads," one man said.

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The LAT fronts and everyone else goes inside with President Bush's nomination of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne as Gale Norton's replacement as Secretary of the Interior. Kempthorne, a former senator and presidential mountain-biking buddy, has a reputation as an even-tempered, knowledgeable pragmatist. But environmentalists around the country derided Kempthorne as a tool of oil and development interests. "The president could not have chosen a more divisive nominee," said the president of the National Environmental Trust.

Approximately 250,000 students participated in widespread protests throughout France in reaction to a new law that allows employers to fire workers under 26 years old at any time during their first two years of employment. The protests evoked memories of the 1968 nationwide protests that almost toppled the de Gaulle government. While the NYT and WSJ reports are straightforward, the Post is oddly condescending to the protesters, running several goofy quotes that portray the students as somewhat immature.

The Post fronts news that the company charged with manufacturing 25 million doses of a new anthrax vaccine by November is behind schedule and seeking an extension from the government. The VaxGen corporation's troubles typify the logistical problems that plague Project Bioshield, the federal biowarfare defense program that largely relies on small, underfunded companies to fulfill its contracts. Big Pharma wants no part of Project Bioshield, so smaller companies like VaxGen struggle to meet their deadlines with little government funding and almost no experience in projects of this magnitude.

Although the Senate Judiciary Committee has been working on an immigration-control bill for weeks, an impatient Sen. Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., introduced his own immigration legislation to the floor of the Senate yesterday, the NYT and WP report. Frist's bill omits a guest-worker program that President Bush supports; the Post speculates that Frist's power play is related to his impending run for the presidency.

The NYT reports on electoral strong-arm tactics in Belarus, known as Europe's last dictatorship. Days before the presidential election, the current Lukashenko administration has been arresting opposition campaign workers and pledging to jail anyone who protests the election's outcome.

The wake for Slobodan Milosevic took place in Belgrade's Museum of the Revolution Thursday, to a small crowd of mostly elderly, fervently nationalist mourners. Although Milosevic will be denied a state funeral, many were upset that he was even allowed a public wake.

Everybody mentions that Carla Martin, the government lawyer who coached witnesses in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, is going on forced leave. Nobody mentions what she'll be doing with her free time; here's hoping she spends some of it enjoying her new membership in the Federal Whoops Club, alongside recent inductees Duke Cunningham, Scooter Libby, and Claude Allen.