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Moscow opposes more sanctions to isolate Tehran

MOSCOW: Further sanctions against Iran would be counterproductive, Russia’s top diplomat has said, rejecting pressure for a tougher stance against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.The remarks by the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, delivered at the side of the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, appeared to undercut hopes that Moscow might agree to additional steps that would isolate Iran.”We believe … all efforts must be focused on supporting the negotiating process,” Mr Lavrov said. ”Any sanctions and threats in the current situation will, in our view, be counterproductive.”Mr Lavrov admitted the odds of reaching a diplomatic settlement with Iran ”might not be 100 per cent” but insisted chances were still strong.However, his language – ”at this stage” and ”in the current situation” – left open the possibility that the Russian position could change in the future.A US State Department official briefing reporters travelling with Mrs Clinton, who is visiting Russia to discuss a range of issues, said that the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, had told her in a separate meeting that if Iran failed to allow full inspections of a previously undisclosed nuclear site and fulfil other agreements struck in Geneva, new sanctions should be imposed.Many analysts now believe that Russia is exactly where it wants to be: in between the West and Iran, enjoying the lobbying and attention of both sides. ”Being in this position of having America trying to get Russia on board makes Russia look important and equal, a strong nation,” said Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre.”If Russia delivers, it’s losing an important trump card. So Russia is consistently avoiding making firm and formal commitments on Iran.”There were reports in the Russian media that the White House had agreed it would no longer criticise Russia’s democratic failings while it courted its support on Iran.The United Nations Security Council has already imposed sanctions on Iran in each of the last three years. Russia has long been wary of responding to Iran’s nuclear program with additional sanctions. Moscow has extensive trade relations with Iran. Hopes that Russia would take a more forceful tone with Iran were raised last month after US and UN officials revealed that Iran was building a previously undisclosed facility to enrich uranium.Mr Medvedev said that ”in some cases, sanctions are inevitable”. The remark encouraged some US officials to conclude Moscow might be inching towards a tougher line on Iran’s nuclear program, which Iran insists is designed for peaceful purposes but many in the West fear will lead to the production of nuclear weapons.Mr Medvedev’s stern statement came shortly after the Obama Administration said it had decided to scrap planned missile shield installations bound for Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia had called repeatedly on the US to drop the planned sites, which it regarded as a threat.The decision to revamp the missile shield plan was widely regarded as a concession to Moscow. Many analysts believed it was the first part of a quid pro quo under which Russia would strike a tougher stance on Iran’s nuclear program.Los Angeles Times, Guardian News & Media, Bloomberg
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Brown ready to boost Afghan force

LONDON: The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is prepared to send extra forces to Afghanistan despite rising opposition to his country’s military presence. Under pressure from military chiefs, he will say he has agreed to send 500 more soldiers to join the 9000 deployed.FULL AFGHANISTAN COVERAGEMr Brown is likely to set a number of conditions to deploying the extra forces, including NATO training of Afghan civil and military personnel, upgraded equipment and a firmly established new government.Britain has the second-largest NATO contingent in Afghanistan behind the US, and the additional forces would bring the British presence to about 9500, which is the highest level since the US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban in 2001.The move follows a series of meetings of the cabinet’s Afghanistan and Pakistan committee, attended by military chiefs and senior ministers. They have been held in parallel with meetings in the US, where the President, Barack Obama, is also under pressure to send more troops.Mr Obama said on Tuesday he would decide in ”coming weeks” whether to meet the request of the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, for reportedly up to 60,000 more personnel.The decision on reinforcements is only one aspect of his review, Mr Obama stressed. Other components include building civilian capacity in the country.The British Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, has described the decision as difficult, saying the extra troops must be properly equipped. On Tuesday, a committee of MPs criticised the Ministry of Defence for not providing adequate armoured vehicles.Military commanders say more forces are needed in areas captured from the Taliban.Mr Brown is expected to tell the House of Commons that he has agreed to send the troops subject to three conditions: that they are properly equipped; that when Hamid Karzai is, as expected, declared winner of the recent presidential election, he promises to deliver ”Afghanisation” of the security forces; and that there is co-ordination with other NATO countries.Guardian News & Media,Agence France-Presse
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From Italy with love: Mussolini was a spy

ROME: History remembers Benito Mussolini as a founder member of the original Axis of Evil, the Italian dictator who ruled his country with fear and forged a disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany. But now a previously unknown area of Il Duce’s CV has come to light: his brief career as a British agent during World War I.Archived documents have revealed that Mussolini was a 34-year-old journalist when he got his start in politics in 1917 with the help of a £100 weekly wage from the British intelligence agency, also known as MI5.Mussolini’s payments were authorised by Sir Samuel Hoare, an MP and MI5’s man in Rome, who ran a staff of 100 British intelligence officers in Italy at the time.A Cambridge historian, Peter Martland, who discovered details of the deal struck with the future dictator, said: ”Britain’s least reliable ally in the war at the time was Italy after revolutionary Russia’s pull-out from the conflict. Mussolini was paid £100 a week from the autumn of 1917 for at least a year to keep up the pro-war campaigning – equivalent to about £6000 a week today.”As well as keeping the presses rolling at Il Popolo d’Italia, the newspaper he edited, Mussolini also told Hoare he would send Italian army veterans to beat up peace protesters in Milan, a dry run for his Fascist blackshirt units.”The last thing Britain wanted were pro-peace strikes bringing the factories in Milan to a halt. It was a lot of money to pay a man who was a journalist at the time, but compared to the £4 million Britain was spending on the war every day, it was petty cash,” said Mr Martland.”I have no evidence to prove it, but I suspect that Mussolini, who was a noted womaniser, also spent a good deal of the money on his mistresses.”After the armistice, Mussolini began his rise to power, assisted by electoral fraud and blackshirt violence, establishing a Fascist dictatorship by the mid-1920s.His colonial ambitions in Africa brought him into contact with his old paymaster again in 1935. Now the British foreign secretary, Hoare signed the Hoare-Laval pact, which gave Italy control over Abyssinia.Deposed following the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943, Mussolini was killed with his mistress, Clara Petacci, two years later by Italian partisans while fleeing Italy in an attempt to reach Switzerland.Guardian News & Media
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US senator crosses great divide on health

WASHINGTON: The chances of Barack Obama achieving a near-universal health-care system – and the most significant extension of the US social safety net since the 1930s – have dramatically improved after a lone Republican voted with Democrats for a compromise proposal.There are many steps in the convoluted legislative process still to come, but Senator Olympia Snowe’s willingness to support the bill developed by the Senate finance committee gives the President a much better chance of gaining the 60 votes he needs to pass a bill in the Senate.Politically it gives him at least a modicum of bipartisan support for what he hopes will be the big achievement of his first term.Describing the bill as a milestone, Mr Obama thanked Senator Snowe.”Now, this bill is not perfect and we have a lot of difficult work ahead of us,” he said. ”But I do believe the work of the Senate finance committee has brought us significantly closer to achieving the core objectives I laid out early in September.”The Baucus bill, named after the Democrat head of the committee, Max Baucus, is different from the house bill and another Senate version as it does not include a public insurer option but proposes a co-operative, non-profit entity to compete with private insurers and offer subsidised health care to the uninsured.The idea of the co-op – similar to a credit union in Australia – is to drive down premiums in the private market, too. But many liberal Democrats and the unions argue nothing short of a publicly owned insurer will be truly able to provide competition to the huge private health insurance companies.The White House has also been stressing its plans to prevent insurers from denying cover on the basis of existing conditions.Senator Snowe and her fellow senator from Maine, Susan Collins, were always considered the Republicans most likely to support expansion of health care. But Senator Snowe made it clear her support was not guaranteed at the final vote – it depends on what happens to the bill during negotiations between the two chambers – and Senator Collins is yet to declare her hand.”Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it,” Senator Snowe said on Monday. ”But when history calls, history calls, and I happen to think the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time.”The Baucus bill is now likely to emerge as the preferred option. The next stage is for it and the other Senate version to be combined, which will be a painful process for the Democrats. The Senate will then meet with the House to harmonise a final bill to be put to a vote. The White House is hoping the President can sign it before the December recess.
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Panel voices fears as unlabelled GE canola hits shelves

FOR the first time, locally produced genetically engineered canola is entering our food chain.From oils to margarine, baby food to snacks, muesli to dairy products, GE canola oil can be found in many processed foods, but consumers are oblivious to what food it is in.A report released by Greenpeace last September said there was only one year left to stop the potential GE contamination of canola, and tonight, as part of the Sydney International Food Festival, a public forum will explain its concern about GE foods.The forum, called ”Out of the Frying Pan” will hear from the food writer and activist John Newton, the author Dr Carole Hungerford, the Greenpeace campaigner Rochelle Porteous and the chef Alex Herbert.Ms Porteous said the risk of locally grown GE canola becoming part of Australia’s oil supplies was a critical issue.She said there were concerns about health problems, sustainability and biodiversity, apart from agricultural contamination. ”There hasn’t been any long-term tests on the impact on human health,” she said.”There have been a number of studies that have shown GE food to have serious health impacts on the immune system.”We have studies that show over 90 per cent of Australian consumers want to know exactly what’s in their food.”Alex Herbert, from Bird Cow Fish in Surry Hills, is one of more than 180 Australian chefs to sign the Genetically Modified Free Chefs Charter opposed to serving genetically modified or engineered foods in their restaurants.The charter calls on the Federal Government to legislate for the compulsory labelling of all GE foods, as well as encouraging the NSW Government to reinstate its suspension on growing GE canola.Ms Herbert said as the long-term implications of planting GE crops were unclear, people should not rush to plant something which may have negative consequences in 10 or 15 years.The author of Good Health in the 21st Century, Dr Carole Hungerford, said there could be health implications for gut bacteria if GE food was consumed regularly.”I believe that man’s ingenuity can sometimes outrun his common sense,” she said.”The genes from GM foods can get into the gut bacteria and the gut bacteria is the most critical thing.”Sixty to 90 per cent of your immune system is in your gut.”Dr Hungerford said the best defence against the increase of allergies and auto-immune deficiencies was to keep gut bacteria healthy.
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