The New York Timesand Washington Postlead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with President Bush's announcement that he plans to bring the Middle East peace process back to the forefront by calling for a regional conference in the fall. Bush also emphasized U.S. support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and promised to send $80 million in direct aid. Although Bush recognized that his vision of a "two-state solution" is still a distant dream, he urged countries in the region to send high-level officials to the conference so that "today's Arab leaders can show themselves to be the equals of peacemakers like Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan."
USA Todayleads with a look at how the Pentagon approves costs on Iraq contracts that its auditors have challenged more frequently than normal. Whereas the Pentagon paid for 44 percent of disputed costs in regular military contracts in 2005, the rate for Iraq contracts was "almost two-thirds." Some believe this shows how the Pentagon is not paying much attention to potential overcharging by contractors in Iraq. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the record settlement that the archdiocese of Los Angeles reached with more than 500 victims of sexual abuse, which was formalized yesterday. "Cardinal [Roger] Mahony and many others are going to have to live with their conscience and live with their incredible moral failure to the people of Los Angeles," Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said. But the matter isn't quite over as they still have to figure out which of the church's confidential documents will be released. There were many tears shed in the courtroom yesterday, as victims celebrated their victory while expressing their anger that the process took so long.
The NYT says the planned peace conference signals how much the Bush administration is "desperately seeking some kind of foreign policy victory ... that would draw attention away from the war in Iraq." The last U.S.-sponsored Middle East conference that brought Israel and Arab countries together was organized by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. But as the Post notes, this upcoming conference in the fall (no word on a specific date or location yet) promises to be a tad less inclusive since only those countries that "recognize Israel's right to exist" will be invited. Who will actually attend is still an open question but it's clear Hamas, whose spokesman mocked the idea of a conference, won't be invited.
Experts also weren't too optimistic about its prospects, saying that this type of meeting should have come earlier and that it has little chance of succeeding under the current political climate. The WSJ has the most skeptical story on the announcement and points out that Abbas could lose much of the popular support he has left if he aligns himself with the United States.
The WP fronts a good look at what might happen if the U.S. combat troops were to withdraw from Iraq "in the near future." Although Bush has often warned that Iran or al-Qaida would take over, most disagree. It's more likely that violence would break out between Iraqis and it's possible that Iraq would pretty much become "three separate nations." Regardless of what happens, those on the ground emphasize that any withdrawal plan must be well-thought-out, although many recognize that the United States hasn't been exactly accurate with its predictions about Iraq in the past.
The NYT fronts a poignant story about a contractor injured in Iraq that is notable because it shows how the war has affected a wide range of people. Shaheen Khan, a 46-year-old Pakistani-American, took a job with KBR washing clothes in the Green Zone and was paralyzed in a car accident. She did go to Iraq for the money, of course, but Khan was hardly making a fortune and now has to spend her time in a nursing home fighting for insurance coverage.
Everybody goes inside with the truck bombing in Kirkuk that left at least 80 people dead, which the WP says was the deadliest attack in the northern city since the beginning of the war. Violence is expected to increase in Kirkuk as a referendum on the city's future gets close. The NYT notes that gunmen wearing Iraqi military uniforms killed 29 people in Diyala Province.
The WSJ tops its business box, and the NYT reefers, word that News Corp. and Dow Jones reached a tentative agreement yesterday. The $5 billion offer will be presented to the full Dow Jones board today but the Bancroft family still has to agree and it's clear that some of them still have doubts.
The NYT fronts a look at Sen. Barack Obama's fund-raising efforts and says that at least part of the reason why he has been able to get a record 258,000 contributors is that anyone who buys an Obama trinket is registered as a donor. And although Obama's campaign loves to talk about the many small donors, he still has "relied on a relatively conventional network of big donors for a majority of his money," says the NYT.
Senators are surely resting up this morning as Democratic lawmakers have vowed to keep the Senate open for business all night to highlight how Republicans are using the threat of a filibuster to require Democrats to obtain 60 votes on any Iraq-related measure.
Over in the NYT's op-ed page, Karen Houppert warns that soon there will be lots of talk about how menstruation is debilitating and bad for women as pharmaceutical companies tout new birth-control pills that either reduce or eliminate periods. Houppert says this is nothing new, as menstruation was frequently given as a reason to justify why women weren't given the same rights as men. "Someone cynical might suggest that research highlighting menstruation's distressing consequences bubbles to the surface every time the public feels anxious over women's expanding roles," Houppert writes.