The Los Angeles Times leads with the possibility that the United States is preparing its own independent coalition to punish Iran for its nuclear activities, if the U.N. Security Council does not give Washington what it wants. The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal's online worldwide newsbox all lead with European countries pledging to pony up almost 7,000 troops for an expanded peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton tells the LAT that the Bush administration will keep moving forward at the U.N. with a proposed package of sanctions against Iran. However, with strong new indications that Russia, China, and France do not have America's appetite for an escalating confrontation with Tehran, Bolton says the United States is working on a parallel track outside the U.N., in which existing anti-terrorism laws would be used to put a new financial squeeze on Iran. Washington is working to persuade other (undisclosed) countries to follow suit.
In Lebanon, "Europe is providing the backbone" of the peacekeeping force authorized under the U.N. resolution that ended the recent month of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, said Secretary General Kofi Annan after an emergency meeting in Brussels (and lots of begging and pleading). The 6,900 new troops will join the 2,000 U.N. peacekeepers already there. They will not be used to disarm Hezbollah, but they will be allowed to use deadly force against anybody that stands in their way. "I don't want to send men so that they can be humiliated on the ground," France's defense minister tells the WSJ.
The Times is skeptical that the 15,000 figure authorized by the ceasefire agreement will ever be reached, and the French are now calling that number "totally excessive." The largest contingent will come from Italy, which will take control of the force from France in February. Despite Israel's desire to exclude any Muslim country with which it does not have diplomatic relations, the SecGen said the U.N. has additional commitments from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. "We will take the best peacekeepers where we can find them," Annan said. "We don't have pools sitting in barracks you can choose and pick from."
The Post off-leads with Hurricane Katrina's lingering political damage for President Bush. One Congressional leader says the storm was "a break in the levee of political goodwill and the Teflon coating that the administration had been enjoying up to then"—and that's coming from a Republican. The Times fronts the news that, one year after Katrina and five years after the terror attacks in New York City, "large chunks" of the country are not prepared to cope with a catastrophic event.
The LAT goes below-the-fold, and the NYT and WP go inside, with what seems to have become the new normal for air travelers since the bust-up of that alleged British airline bomb plot: seven security incidents on Friday alone that caused flights in the U.S. to be diverted, evacuated, searched, or delayed. In one instance, a stick of dynamite was found in a college student's checked luggage (he told authorities he works in mining). In another, a United Airlines flight out of Chicago's O'Hare airport was delayed after a 10-year-old boy who apparently wasn't big on flying "said something inappropriate." (NBC News reported the kid had shouted he had a bomb strapped to his leg.)
Flyers did get one break: A federal judge blocked flight attendants at Northwest Airlines from going out on sporadic strikes to protest pay cuts and work rules.
The WP has an interesting story about the escalating firestorm over a report earlier this week about a new method for harvesting embryonic stem cells that proponents claim does not kill the embryo. A critic from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been circulating an e-mail accusing the scientists of deception—not revealing, for example, that no embryos actually survived the experiments. In response, the journal Nature has taken the unusual step of correcting parts of its news release, while at the same time, a NYT editorial today bemoans "the great lengths to which scientists must go these days to shape stem cell research to fit the dictates of religious conservatives."
Also in the papers: Prices for food, fuel, and just about every other basic necessity of life in Iraq are out of control. Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, now a member of the senior executive circle at Citigroup, quit the Ford Motor Company board of directors, citing potential conflicts of interest. There's suddenly a big demand for teachers of Chinese in America's schools.
And, Maxxed Out: This is the last hurricane season that will be overseen by Max Mayfield, who is retiring as director of the National Hurricane Center in January. It was Mayfield who sounded the alarm a year ago, from the White House to the Gulf Coast, that Hurricane Katrina was going to be the real deal. Mayfield told his colleagues he was retiring because "I've been here 34 years and as Forrest Gump said in the movie, 'I'm tired and I want to go home.' ''