The Washington Post and the New York Times lead on North Korea's decision to close its main nuclear reactor and readmit a permanent UN inspection team. If the plant's closure is confirmed by inspectors, it would mark the first step in a denuclearization schedule agreed in February, and the first concrete progress made under the six-nation negotiations that began in 2003. The Los Angeles Times stuffs the Korea story, and leads on news—fronted by the NYT and reefered by the Post—that L.A.'s Catholic archdiocese will pay $660 million to settle a civil suit brought by more than 500 child abuse victims.
North Korea's decision to close its main plutonium reactor was carefully timed to coincide with the delivery of 6,200 tons of heavy fuel oil, received from South Korea as a down payment on future fuel aid. Up to a million tons of fuel oil could be forthcoming if Pyongyang sticks to the agreed schedule for shutting down its nuclear operations; the next step would be for North Korea to permanently disable the nuclear plant and provide a full audit of her stockpiled nuclear materials and weapon programs. U.S. officials cautiously welcomed news of the plant's closure but warned that further progress could be slow, with no guarantee that Kim Jong-il will prove willing to abandon his nuclear ambitions altogether. The Post notes that while the news provides Bush with a rare foreign policy victory, it does little more than restore the East Asian landscape to what it was in 2002, before the collapse of a Clinton-era nuclear agreement.
Lawyers for over 500 victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy said last night that they had secured a $660 million deal to settle their clients' lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. If finalized, the deal would dwarf previous payouts; in 2002, the Archdiocese of Boston paid just $85 million to a similar number of abuse victims. The LAT does a good job of cutting through the complexity and secrecy surrounding the case, and is the only paper to get a confirmation of the deal from Church sources. The NYT focuses on the mixture of relief and disappointment with which plaintiffs greeted news that they would no longer get their day in court; one called the settlement "a bitter release."
The NYT fronts and the Post teases news that Russia yesterday formally suspended its participation in a Cold War-era conventional weapons treaty that limits military deployments in Europe, apparently in protest at U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Abandoning the treaty leaves Russia free to move tanks and other heavy weapons to its western borders; the move is largely symbolic but drew sharp criticism from Poland and Estonia.
With Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki claiming that Iraqi forces are capable of securing the country "any time" the U.S. chooses to withdraw, all the papers examine Congress' continuing efforts to reach a consensus on the conflict. The NYT reports on attempts to revive the Baker-Hamilton report and fronts a look at declining morale among military families, cited by several anti-war Republicans as the trigger for their defection. The Post eyes the increasing pressure placed on Gen. David Petraeus, whose September progress report has become a critical factor in lawmakers' deliberations and continues its series profiling individual lawmakers as they assess and reassess their stance on the war.
The LAT fronts claims by an unnamed senior U.S. officer that almost half of foreign fighters in Iraq come from Saudi Arabia, raising questions about the kingdom's commitment to preventing its citizens from joining the insurgency. Iraqi politicians accused Saudi officials of deliberately seeking to sow chaos in Baghdad.
The Post off-leads with an economic analysis of efforts to address global warming, concluding that at both the national and international level the huge cost of trimming greenhouse-gas emissions has left lawmakers unwilling or unable to implement meaningful changes.
China yesterday blocked the import of several shipments of American processed meat that allegedly showed signs of contamination; the Post fronts and the NYT teases the news. China has had qualms about American meat in the past, but yesterday's move appears to be part of a tit-for-tat trade skirmish following investigations into the safety of a wide range of Chinese exports.
The Post reports that an independent watchdog created to identify intelligence abuses failed to send any reports of legal violations to the attorney general in the first five and a half years of the Bush administration, despite receiving hundreds of reports of violations from the FBI.
Former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore III dropped out of the 2008 presidential race yesterday; the Post feigns surprise. The conservative Republican, whose campaign raised barely a third of a million dollars since January, says he'll now consider running for the Senate.
All the papers report from the funeral of Lady Bird Johnson, attended yesterday by dignitaries including Laura Bush, four former first ladies, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. The NYT excerpts her diary, in which she compared her husband's campaign for the presidency to a stint in a concentration camp.
Money, money, money: The NYT fronts a slightly rose-tinted look at the new breed of super-rich Americans whose enormous wealth and vast business empires echo those of the Gilded Age. Meanwhile, it's belt-tightening time at the House of Windsor: The NYT leads its business section on news that the British royal family has been reduced to asking for handouts to fix the leaking roof of Buckingham Palace.