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Britain and US ‘risk repeating Iraq invasion mistake with Iran’

Peter Oborne, and David Morrison
The Telegraph

It is just over ten years since Britain and the United States launched the invasion of Iraq, now regarded very widely as a terrible mistake which has done huge damage to our reputation across the Muslim world. Today we are on the verge of an eerily similar error, only this time concerning Iran, write Peter Oborne and David Morrison in an article based on a new book.

The same sort of lies and falsehoods are being uttered about Iran as were told about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction ten years ago, and in some cases by the same people.

Iran is being painted in the west as an aggressive power, ruled by irrational mullahs, hell-bent on the acquisition of nuclear weapons, and intent on the destruction of Israel.

If this picture were true, the military threats uttered by Israel, the United States and Britain against the Iranian leadership would indeed be justified. But the picture is more complicated, less menacing and not nearly as one-sided as has been widely portrayed.

Certainly Iran has been guilty of very serious human rights abuses (though certainly no worse than many states, such as Saudi Arabia) which are regarded as western allies. But the central claim that Iran is an aggressive and malevolent power is based – to an astonishing extent – on sheer ignorance.

Let us consider, for example, the widely held belief – frequently repeated as fact by British politicians and in the western media – that Iran has an active nuclear weapons programme.

US intelligence thinks it does not. They have been clear on this point ever since they published a National Intelligence Estimate (a formal assessment expressing the consensus view of the 16 US intelligence agencies) on Iran’s nuclear activities in November 2007.

It stated that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program’ adding that ‘We assess with moderate confidence Tehran has not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007.’ US intelligence has not changed its view since. Israeli intelligence seems to share this opinion. A year ago, the Israeli Chief of Staff, General Benny Gantz told Haaretz that he did not believe that Iran will decide to develop nuclear weapons. And on his recent visit to Israel, President Obama talked about the close cooperation of US and Israeli intelligence and stated that there was “not a lot of daylight” between their assessments of Iran’s nuclear activities.

Nobody can say with certainty that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons in secret. But it would be very hard for them to do so. This is because the country is a fully signed up member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has for the most part obediently respected its provisions, and continues to do so today.

This means that Iran’s enrichment facilities are open to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), as are its other nuclear facilities. Over many years the IAEA has verified that no nuclear material has been diverted from these facilities for possible military purposes.

Most experts consider that it would be impossible for Iran to produce weapons-grade uranium for a bomb without being spotted by IAEA inspectors.

It is certainly true that the IAEA is currently in dispute with Iran over some of its nuclear activities. But it is not in breach of its NPT commitments, and here the contrast with India and Israel, both allies of the west, is so very striking. Their nuclear facilities are almost entirely closed to international inspections, and Israel is in open defiance of UN security council demands to make them available for inspection.

The unfairness (grotesque from an Iranian point of view) is glaring.

Iran, which has no nuclear weapons, is the object of ferocious economic sanctions and threats of military action. By contrast Israel (with perhaps 400 nuclear bombs and the capacity to deliver them anywhere in the Middle East) is the object of more than $3 billion a year of US military aid.

These basic facts about Iran’s nuclear activities are (if you search for them) in the public domain. Yet the British media and political class rarely mentions any of them. As a result, almost all of our public discourse on the Iranian nuclear issue is misleading, and much of it completely false.

Here are just a few examples. Last year the BBC’s flagship Ten O’Clock News began a report with the statement that ‘Iran has announced new developments in its nuclear weapons programme.’ This report simply took it for granted that Iran possessed a nuclear weapons programme.

One Times report wrote of ‘Tehran’s atomic weaponry’, while the Economist casually referred to ‘Iran’s nukes’. The fact that respected, sceptical and authoritative publications talk of Iran as if it already possesses nuclear weapons highlights the extent to which Iran’s presumed guilt is embedded in British (and of course American) public discourse.

British politicians fuel the myth. Last year Defence Secretary Philip Hammond spoke of how Iran is believed to be working ‘flat out’ to build nuclear weapons. while Foreign Secretary William Hague told The Daily Telegraph last year that Iran was ‘clearly continuing their nuclear weapons programme.’ Remarks like this from cabinet ministers add weight to the powerful narrative that Iran’s nuclear ambitions must be curbed, enhancing the case for ever harsher economic sanctions and, if that fails to do the job, for military actions. Meanwhile the mainstream media is behaving as it did in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when, instead of questioning every aspect of the case for military action, it became the cheerleader for war.

This brings us to the biggest falsehood of all – the claim that Iran is defiantly refusing to engage reasonably with the west. If anything the opposite is the truth. More than once, the Iranians have shown themselves ready to negotiate.

They did so in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities, which was met with candlelit vigils in Tehran and denunciations by senior clerics. Iran provided intelligence briefings and help in the war against the Taliban, even going so far as far as to offer to rescue US pilots shot down over Iranian territory. According to James Dobbins, the diplomat who led the US delegation in the negotiations leading up to the 2001 Bonn agreement on Afghanistan, ‘in 2002 and again in 2003 Washington actually spurned offers from Tehran to cooperate on Afghanistan and Iraq and negotiate out other US/Iranian differences, including over its nuclear programme.’ In 2005 Iran floated another deal at a meeting with a European negotiating team at the Quai d’Orsay. It offered to open up all its nuclear facilities to intrusive international inspection, along with a series of other concessions, so long as the west recognised its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, a right to which it is entitled as a signatory of the NPT. This deal was (say foreign office sources) killed off by Tony Blair, acting on behalf of George W Bush.

A deal along the these lines could be struck today. But it would require America and the west to stop treating Iran as a pariah state, and instead as a proud, independent nation with legitimate regional interests.

If we fail to take this course of action, the consequences look bleak.

Within months the world could be plunged into a new round of war and bloodshed, with the added risk of global economic collapse. Such an outcome would not just be terrible. It is wholly unnecessary.


Planet Earth

Life on Earth can be explained by asteroid-eating bacteria

A new study suggests that asteroids can be a food source for living things, more specifically a microorganism called  Metallosphaera sedula , a metal-eating species.

M. sedula Picture: Tetyana Milojevic

Metallosphaera sedula  is a species of bacteria-like microbes, originally isolated from a volcanic field in Italy. The first part of the name can roughly be translated as a “metal mobilizing sphere,” while the word “sedulus” means busy. This describes the efficiency of these organisms in mobilizing metals, including those found in asteroids.

According to research led by University of Vienna astrobiologist Tetyana Milojevic, these microbes derive their energy from inorganic substances through oxidation, and can collect energy sources faster from extraterrestrial rocks than from simple ancient terrestrial minerals. Milojevic explains that the study was conducted to find “microbial fingerprints” left in meteorites. “This should be useful for tracking life-seeking biosignatures in other parts of the universe,” she concludes.

This kind of research, according to the astrobiologist, can provide her colleagues with “little tips” on what they can look for in their search for alien life. “If there was ever life on another planet, similar microbial fingerprints may still be preserved in the geological record,” she said.

The team examined how Metallosphaera sedula  interacts with NWA 1172, a rocky meteorite found in northwest Africa that contains about 30 different metals. Using various spectroscopy techniques and an electron microscope, the researchers documented the signatures left by the organism. Thus, they found that M. sedula  is able to consume extraterrestrial material much faster than it does with terrestrial minerals, resulting in healthier cells.

Inorganic Compounds of Meteorite NWA 1172 (Image: Tetyana Milojevic)

While terrestrial minerals provide only a few nutrients for the microorganism, “NWA 1172 iron is used as an energy source to meet M. sedula’s bioenergetic needs  as microbes breathe due to iron oxidation,” Milojevic explained. The wide range of metals in NWA 1172 can also be used for other metabolic processes, such as accelerating vital chemical reactions within cells. And because the meteorite is so porous, it can promote M. sedula’s improved growth rate.

That means iron meteorites could have brought more metal elements and phosphorus to Earth, making life’s evolution easier, according to Milojevic. In addition, research may also support the panspermia hypothesis, an idea that cannot yet be substantiated, but it is not ruled out either, as scientists have not yet completely unraveled the origin of life on our planet. And Milojevic is interested in exploring this possibility: To do so, her team plans to “test the survival of  M. sedula  under simulated and real environmental conditions from outer space,” the astrobiologist said. The plan, however, will have to find the funding needed to send the microorganisms into space.


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Planet Earth

Latimeria found, lived on our planet long before the dinosaurs

The unique fish Latimeria chalumnae, also called “Coelacanth”, lived on our planet long before the dinosaurs. They were long thought to have disappeared around the same time, about 65 million years ago.

However, after 1938, when the first Latimeria was officially discovered by chance, it turns out that the Latimerians did not die, but live in the deep waters off the east and south coasts of Africa.

Later, a second type of Latimeria was discovered in Indonesia.

The oldest fossils of Latimeria are 360 ​​million years old, and the “freshest” are 80 million years old. At the same time, it should be known that there were a huge number of Latimerians, at least 90 different species. They have been distributed worldwide, in sea and fresh waters.

Latimeria stand out against the modern fishes with their unusual fins, more like limbs, and a wedge-shaped tail. Their bodies are covered with solid scales, similar to armor.

Latimeria are pretty big fish. They can reach up to 2 meters in length and weigh up to 90 kg. At the same time, the fact that no one has found them for so long is amazing.

Even after this species has been officially recognized as being extant, the Latimeria is still rare and can only be found through specific monitoring in the waters where it has been observed.

Latimeria swim slowly and feed on cephalopods and deep-sea fishes. Often, they were discovered in groups in underwater caves. They live to about 48 years. Females give birth to live individuals after a long pregnancy of 13 months.

The first discovered Latimeria

The history of the Coelacanth is the cornerstone that supports the belief of many cryptozoologists that the mysterious Yeti, sea monsters, Chupacabra and other cryptids, actually exist, but simply have not yet been found.

At least two species of Latimeria, and perhaps more, have survived to this day without hiding at all. In addition, as mentioned above, Latimeria’s “freshest” fossils date back to 80 million years.

Just imagine this huge period of time during which archeologists have not found a single skeleton of Latimeria, even though they existed all this time.

According to some reports, there are populations of 300-400 individuals near the coasts of Africa and Indonesia. This comes after several years of increased illegal fishing. In the 1980s, the Latimerians were hunted (supposedly) because of the healing properties of their meat, and before that there were probably several thousand of them.

But if they were initially much smaller, they would probably never have been discovered at all, still considered extinct.

And the rare stories of local fishermen about “fish with a foot and a shell ” would be considered the same fiction as the stories of Africans about living dinosaurs.

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Planet Earth

Humpback Whales Have Made a Stunning Recovery After Coming Close to Extinction

Elias Marat, The Mind Unleashed

After coming dangerously close to the brink of extinction, the humpback whale population in the South Atlantic Ocean has made a stunning rebound, according to scientists.

Around 60 years ago, it was estimated that the western South Atlantic (WSA) humpback whale population had been thinned out to less than 500.

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