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WORLD NEWS IN BRIEF: Solar storm, Iran and Syria

Thursday, March 8, 2012 | 7:20 p.m. CST; updated 8:09 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 8, 2012

Strong solar storm reaches Earth, but planet escapes unharmed

WASHINGTON — One of the strongest solar storms in years engulfed Earth early Thursday, but scientists say the planet may have lucked out.

The storm started with a massive solar flare Tuesday evening and grew as it raced outward from the sun, expanding like a giant soap bubble, scientists said. The storm struck about 6 a.m. EST in a direction that causes the least amount of problems, said Joe Kunches, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center. But that storm orientation can and is changing, he said.

The potential for problems is widespread. Solar storms have three ways they can disrupt technology on Earth: with magnetic, radio and radiation emissions. This is an unusual situation, when all three types of solar storm disruptions are likely to be strong, Kunches said.

Tensions rise over how to handle Iran, possible intent to develop nuclear weapons

VIENNA — Three days of protracted negotiations held under the specter of war highlighted the diplomatic difficulties ahead for nations intent on ensuring that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. In a statement Thursday that was less than dramatic, six world powers avoided any bitter criticism of Iran and said diplomacy — not war — is the best way forward. Thursday's statement indicated that the West was willing to go some ways to maintain at least a semblance of six-power unity.

Returning to Jerusalem from intensive talks in Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government will not allow Iran to obtain atomic bombs but prefers a peaceful solution to the issue. Israel and the U.S. agree that Iran is on a path that could eventually lead to the production of a nuclear weapon, but part ways over urgency: Netanyahu has seemed impatient with President Barack Obama's statements that tough new economic sanctions imposed by the West be given time to work.

In Tehran, Iran's top leader welcomed comments by Obama advocating diplomacy as a solution in a rare positive signal from the head of a nation that regards Washington as its bitter foe. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, quoted by Iran's state television, praised Obama's statement this week that he saw a "window of opportunity" to use diplomacy to resolve the nuclear dispute.

Conflict in Syria continues, as U.S. weighs options

BEIRUT — Syria's deputy oil minister appeared tense as he looked at the camera and announced in a video that he has defected from President Bashar Assad's regime, acknowledging he expects government forces to "burn my home" and "persecute my family." Abdo Husameddine, a 58-year-old father of four, on Thursday became the highest-ranking civilian official to join the opposition, and he urged his countrymen to "abandon this sinking ship" as the nation spirals toward civil war.

The U.N. estimates 7,500 people have been killed since the uprising began. Assad's regime has suffered a steady stream of low-level army defectors, who have joined a group of dissidents known as the Free Syrian Army, now numbering in the thousands. Open dissent is dangerous in Syria, a country that crushed any rumblings of defiance even before the popular revolt started to threaten the Assad family's 40-year dynasty.

Although there are widespread concerns that military action could cause a regional upheaval, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that Obama has ordered up a Pentagon review of options. Dempsey said the options to be examined include enforcing a no-fly zone and humanitarian airlifts. He added that the military would study the situation and report back on points like Syria's sophisticated air defenses and its extensive stockpile of chemical weapons.


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