UNITED NATIONS – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton engaged in a verbal nuclear exchange Monday on the U.N. stage, where nations gathered for a monthlong debate over the world’s ultimate weapons.
Speaking from the podium of the General Assembly Hall, Clinton accused Iran of „flouting the rules” of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty with its suspect uranium enrichment program, and said it is „time for a strong international response.”For his part, Ahmadinejad earlier rejected such allegations, saying Washington has offered not „a single credible proof.”They were the opening salvos in four weeks of deliberations over how to improve the NPT, formally reviewed every five years in a meeting of all 189 treaty members — all the world’s nations except India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.The review conference is meant to produce a final document pointing toward ways to better achieve the NPT’s goals of checking the spread of nuclear weapons, while working toward reducing and eventually eliminating them.Because it requires a consensus of all parties, including Iran, any formal final decision would be highly unlikely to censure the Tehran government, which would block consensus.Instead, as delegates assess the state of the NPT in U.N. conference halls, U.S. and European diplomats will be working elsewhere to reach agreement with sometimes reluctant China and Russia on a fourth round of U.N. Security Council economic penalties to impose on Iran. „I hope that we can reach agreement in the Security Council on tough new sanctions,” Clinton told reporters, „because I believe that is the only way to catch Iran’s attention.”In her address, Clinton proposed that the nonproliferation treaty be strengthened by introducing „automatic penalties” for noncompliance, rather than depend on such drawn-out council negotiations.Ahmadinejad devoted much of his half-hour speech to the huge U.S. nuclear arsenal, denouncing the Obama administration’s refusal to rule out the use of those weapons.”Regrettably, the government of the United States has not only used nuclear weapons, but also continues to threaten to use such weapons against other countries, including Iran,” Ahmadinejad said.He referred to the new U.S. Nuclear Posture Review’s provision retaining an option to use U.S. atomic arms against countries not in compliance with the nonproliferation pact, a charge Washington lays against Iran.Clinton later announced the U.S. government was releasing previously undisclosed details about the U.S. arsenal. About the same time in Washington, the Pentagon was reporting that the U.S. maintains 5,113 nuclear warheads in its stockpile and „several thousand” more retired warheads that await dismantling.Ahmadinejad invited President Barack Obama to join a „humane movement” that would set a timetable for abolishing those and all other atomic arms, weapons he called „disgusting and shameful.”As the Iranian president spoke, the U.S. delegation, of working-level staff, walked out of the General Assembly hall, joined by several European delegations, including the French and British. Lower-level Iranian officials sat through Clinton’s later speech.Yukiya Amano, head of the U.N. watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency, leveled the specific indictment against Iran, saying his inspectors could not confirm that all of its nuclear material is devoted to peaceful activities.Iran must „clarify activities with a possible military dimension,” Amano said.Opening the conference, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that „the onus is on Iran” to clear up doubts. He said the same in a later private meeting with Ahmadinejad, the U.N. chief’s office said. Ahmadinejad, the only head of state participating in the conference, complained that the U.S. and its allies were pressuring Iran „on the false pretext of probable diversions in their peaceful nuclear activities without providing even a single credible proof to substantiate their allegation.”The Iranian leader reiterated his country’s support for establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, an Arab-backed idea aimed at Israel‘s unacknowledged nuclear arsenal of perhaps 80 bombs.Clinton, too, repeated U.S. endorsement of the idea. She told reporters regional instabilities mean conditions aren’t right at this time for a Mideast „nuke-free” zone, „but we are prepared to support practical measures for moving toward that objective.”Egypt has proposed that this 2010 NPT conference back a plan calling for the start of negotiations next year on such a Mideast zone. The proposal may become a major debating point in the monthlong session.Strange Spots on Pluto May be Tar and Frost By Clara Moskowitz SPACE.comWhen scientists got an unprecedented up-close view of Pluto from the Hubble telescope recently, they found mysterious bright and dark spots mottling the dwarf planet’s surface. Now researchers think they have a better guess at what’s causing those weird spots.The Hubble images, released in February, revealed Pluto as a molasses-colored world on the fringe of the solar system with surprising variations in brightness across its surface. Based on closer analysis, scientists say the darker spots may represent parts of the ground covered in a tar of primordial organic compounds.”We know there’s methane on Pluto,” said dwarf planet expert Mike Brown of Caltech. „Here’s what we think happens: Sunlight hits the methane and breaks it apart into its chemical components – hydrocarbons. Over millions of years this process makes a dark reddish-brown oil or tar-like substance that sticks to the ground. These darker areas spread larger as they absorb more sunlight and cause additional frost to sublimate.”The bright spots, in turn, are thought to be related to areas covered in carbon monoxide frost.These recent views of Pluto reveal a different picture from what astronomers observed in past images, partly because the dwarf planet’s appearance is changing with the seasons. But seasons are extremely long on Pluto. The reason: It takes the world 248 Earth-years to make a full trip around the sun.”Until the mid-1980s, Pluto’s northern hemisphere was tilted away from the sun for over 100 years, accumulating a substantial amount of frost,” said study leader Marc Buie of the Southwest Research Institute. „Now the northern hemisphere is coming into sunlight and appears, as shown in the Hubble images, to have been growing brighter.” Right now, Pluto is a relatively balmy minus 385 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 232 degrees Celsius), following its closest approach to the sun in the late 1980s. But Pluto is in for some colder times in the future. And when temperatures get frigid enough, scientists think the gas in Pluto’s wispy atmosphere will actually freeze and fall to the ground.”Now, Pluto is headed away from the sun again,” says Brown. „It will gradually get colder and colder and its atmosphere will refreeze to its surface. In fact, that should have already started happening, but apparently it has not. It’s a mystery.”If Earth ever got cold enough for its atmosphere to freeze, it would create a layer 30 feet (9 meters) thick. Luckily, our planet is a tropical paradise compared to Pluto. And Pluto’s atmosphere is so thin, when it freezes it will make only a frosty film of nitrogen and methane.The new Hubble views of Pluto are just the tip of the iceberg for scientists studying the frigid world. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is currently speeding toward Pluto on a decade-long trek across the solar system.NASA launched New Horizons in January 2006. It zoomed past the moon in 10 hours and swung around Jupiter a year later, making it NASA’s fastest spacecraft ever sent to another planet.New Horizons is hitting a series of midpoint milestones on its trip to Pluto this year. The probe is due to fly by Pluto and its three moons – Charon, Nix and Hydra – in July 2015.World chess title: Anand keeps lead with new draw By AFPSOFIA (AFP) – India’s defending world chess champion Viswanathan Anand maintained his lead over Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov Monday after the latest in a series of draws in their duel for the title.In the seventh of 12 games, Anand and Topalov negotiated a draw on the 58th move, leaving Anand with a 4-3 overall lead.The Indian, known as the „Tiger from Madras”, has two wins to one for Topalov, while four games ended in a draw.The eighth game of the 12-round match is scheduled for Tuesday, when Anand, who played white on Monday, will start with the blacks.The 40-year-old Anand first became world champion in 2007 and successfully defended his title in 2008.The 35-year-old Topalov won the right to challenge him by beating Gata Kamsky of the United States in the semi-final in February 2009.The new world chess champion will win a prize of 1.2 million euros (1.58 million dollars), while the loser will take home 800,000 euros.Chess fans can follow all the games to run until May 13 online at www.anand-topalov.com.