The New York Timesleads with "senior administration officials and Asian diplomats" saying the White House is considering offering North Korea a grand bargain including a possible peace treaty. The Washington Postleads with the House ethics committee doing something unusual: It's investigating ethics allegations. After 16 months of chilling, the panel will look at one Democrat and one Republican, both of whom are considered sure things for indictments. Beyond laments of "partisan bickering," the papers don't really explain the delay. (Here's a piece from TheHill giving a bit of background.) The Los Angeles Timesleads with the market's dive on evidence of across-the-board inflation. One fear is that the Feds will ratchet up interest rates again. The Dow dropped 214 points, its biggest dip in three years. It's still up a few percent on the year. USA Todayleads with a big unfunded liability to cover local and state worker retirees—"it could exceed $1 trillion." By comparison, Medicare's liability is an estimated $33 trillion.
Citing "aides," the NYT says President Bush "is very likely to approve" the new approach to Pyongyang. The president has long argued that he wouldn't deal with Pyongyang until North Korea tossed its nukes program (and now nukes themselves). He later softened a bit and suggested vague offers of carrots if Pyongyang made moves too. But dangling a peace treaty—and allowing talks to start straight away without preconditions—would be a big switch for an administration that has tended to turn up its nose at negotiating with bad-boy regimes.
One "senior Asian official" told the Times the administration's friendly gesture is being prompted by concerns about Iran: "There is a sense that they can't leave Korea out there as a model for what the Iranians hope to become—a nuclear state that can say no to outside pressure.""
Finally, there's this tidbit buried in the NYT's piece:
A classified National Intelligence Estimate on North Korea, which was circulated among senior officials earlier this year, concluded that the North had probably fabricated the fuel for more than a half-dozen nuclear weapons since the beginning of Mr. Bush's administration and was continuing to produce roughly a bomb's worth of new plutonium each year.
Has that been reported before? (TP did a quickie Nexis and didn't spot other references.)
The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with and most others front the Senate voting 83 to 16 to build a roughly 300-mile fence along the southern border. The House's bill calls for a fence twice as long. The Senate also agreed to limit the number of guest workers to 200,000 annually, half the bill's original number. The Senate also rejected another effort to cut off the bill's proposed path to citizenship.
The NYT fronts the government asking contractors to bid on an estimated $2 billion deal to use all sorts of whiz-bang technology to shore up the border. There's some skepticism in Congress about funding the project—known as Secure Border Initiative (not to be confused with SDI). After all, as the Times notes, the government's recent track record for high-tech tools at the border "is dismal." One quibble: The Times gives the impression that Bush just ordered the bidding. He didn't. The project has been around since November.
The Journal announces, "ABBAS EMERGES STRONGER AMID PALESTINIAN STRIFE." Abbas better enjoy it while he can. Security forces are supposed to be under his command. But as the NYT notes, yesterday Hamas "deployed a new security force in the Gaza Strip." In turn, Abbas ordered his men into the streets in Gaza. Which means a showdown could be coming.
The LAT fronts the Army giving GIs in Iraq small lasers that will briefly blind and, hopefully, warn off drivers at checkpoints. Citing military stats, the Times says soldiers currently shoot to try to stop Iraqi vehicles "about eight times a day." The paper quotes a critic in Washington wondering whether the lasers will cause eye damage. The U.S.' Iraq ground commander, who ordered the change, considered that point. "I have no doubt," he said, "that bullets are less safe."
Correction, May 18, 2006:This story originally cited the Washington Post as saying Senate Democrats supported a provision to build a wall along the border in order to give them "political cover." In fact, the Post had written that Democrats' "political cover" consisted of support for the bill by labor and immigrant groups. (Return to the corrected sentence.)