EU threatens new sanctions on Syria

Posted Feb. 08, 2012, at 8:37 p.m.

BEIRUT — The European Union will impose harsher sanctions on Syria, a senior EU official said Wednesday, as Russia tried to broker talks between the vice president and the opposition to calm violence.

Syrian forces, meanwhile, persisted with their assault on Homs, the country’s third largest city, trying to put down what has been an epicenter of the uprising.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 53 people were killed in Wednesday’s shelling of the Homs neighborhoods of Bayadah, Baba Amr, Khaldiyeh and Karm el-Zeytoun. The group also said that 23 homes were heavily damaged in Baba Amr alone.

Russia, a close ally of Syria, and the West are pushing down starkly different paths in trying to deal with Syria’s nearly 11 months of bloodshed. After blocking a Western and Arab attempt to bring U.N. pressure on President Bashar Assad to step down, Russia has launched a bid to show it can resolve the turmoil.

Moscow is calling for a combination of reforms by the regime and negotiations, without calling for Assad to go. Its provisions are so far finding no traction with the opposition, which dismisses promises of reform as empty gestures, refuses any negotiations while violence continues and says Assad’s removal is the only option in the crisis.

Activists say hundreds of people have been killed in Homs since Saturday.The U.N. says well over 5,400 people have been killed since the uprising began last year.

Israel’s president sends message of peace to Iran

JERUSALEM — Israel’s president reached out to the Iranian people with a message of peace Wednesday, as the West tightened sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, and a former Israeli spymaster said Israel is not in mortal danger.

Shimon Peres, an elder statesmen who is a Nobel Peace laureate, appealed to the people of Iran to look beyond the current crisis.

The U.S., Israel and the West believe Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons. Iran denies that. This week the U.S. cranked up its sanctions on Iran to try to force it to stop its uranium enrichment, but Iran responded with defiance.

Speaking at a ceremony marking the 63rd anniversary of the founding of Israel’s parliament, Peres directed his remarks to the people of Iran.

“We were not born enemies and there is no need to live as enemies. Do not allow the flags of hostility to cast a dark shadow over your historic heritage,” Peres said. “Your people are a sensitive people that aspire for friendship and peace, and not for conflicts and wars.”

Israel and Iran had close relations before the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

NRC set to approve nuke construction permit

WASHINGTON — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is poised to approve the first construction permit for a new reactor in three decades, a milestone that a former regulator says doesn’t signify a renaissance in American nuclear energy.

The NRC is scheduled to vote Thursday on Southern Co.’s plan to build two reactors at its Vogtle plant about 26 miles southeast of Augusta, Ga. They are among applications for 28 reactors the NRC has received since 2007 — though only four are on track to begin operating this decade.

The spate of applications was spurred by forecasts that more electricity would be needed to keep pace with the last decade’s housing boom, and skyrocketing natural gas prices that made the costs of nuclear development seem less daunting. An economic slowdown has since cooled demand for power, while a glut of natural gas has driven down wholesale power prices, discouraging investment in other sources of power.

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