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UN Head Arrives in Syria

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The head of a UN observation mission arrived in Syria on Sunday and urged government and resistance forces alike to end the violence that has rocked the country for more than a year, according to the Washington Post.

Maj Gen Robert Mood arrived in the Syrian capital of Damascus on Sunday to assist the 30 unarmed UN observers already deployed assist in ending the conflict in Syria. 30 more of the approved 300 observers are slated to follow.

Ten unarmed observers, 30 unarmed observers, 300 unarmed observers, even a thousand unarmed observers cannot solve all the problems," Maj Gen Mood told the BBC. "To achieve the success of Kofi Annan's six-point plan, I call on all to stop the violence and to help us on a continued cessation of armed violence in all its forms."

Violence has gone down in some neighborhoods where observers have been stationed but activists group say that at least 28 more civilians were killed on Sunday.

Iran claims they have cracked downed US drone

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The Iranian government claims to have pulled secret information out of an American spy drone that crashed back in December, and plan on reverse-engineering the craft to build their own copy, according to the BBC.

Military Aerospace chief Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh told the Iranian press on Sunday that military scientists had hacked computers aboard the RQ-170 Sentinel and extracted secret data, including information on past missions spying on Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan weeks before his assassination.

According to the New York Times, Hajizadeh also suggested that Iran would began reverse-engineering the drone to create their own copy, a claim that American experts have dismissed.

"It's hard for me to imagine no self-destruct or erase mechanism was embedded in the drone to destroy sensitive systems, including software," said Dennis M. Gormley, a drone expert from the University of Pittsburgh. "As someone who does monitor Iranian aerospace and missile claims closely, let me simply observe that they are preternaturally disposed to exaggeration."

The White House and American Intelligence officials would not comment on the claims Sunday, but some US officials offered skepticism at Iran's claims.

"I think there is a history here of Iranian bluster, particularly now when they are on the defensive because of our economic sanctions against them," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman on Fox News Sunday. "I don't have confidence at this point that they are really able to make a copy of it. It's a very sophisticated piece of machinery and has served our national security well."

Kim Jong-un makes first speech as N. Korean leader

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New North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gave his first public speech Sunday, emphasizing military strength as a continued priority for the North and unveiling a new rocket, according to the Associated Press.

The twenty-minute speech was the best glimpse North Korea and the rest of the world has had of Kim since he assumed power after his father's death in December. He addressed assembled Koreans and a military parade on the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung, Kim's grandfather and founding North Korean president.

"Superiority in military technology is no longer monopolized by imperialists, and the era of enemies using atomic bombs to threaten and blackmail us is forever over," Kim said.

Kim reinforced the country's pursuit of military strength, pledging to continue his father's long-standing conflict with the United States and its allies. Kim also unveiled a new long-range rocket during the address, although it is unclear whether the rocket was real or a mock-up. North Korea has been struggling to save face after a costly and embarrassing launch on Friday, when a similar rocket broke apart in flight.

The North Korean state media and other analysts have noted strong similarities between Kim and his late grandfather, citing their similar demeanor and gregariousness.

"Kim Jong-il inspired awe and dread among his people and was never a leader friendly with the public," Cheong Seong-chang, a South Korean researcher told the New York Times. "Like his grandfather, however, Kim Jong-un has so far tried to look more willing to communicate with his people. We may see him speak in public more often."

North Korea readies rocket launch

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North Korea is moving forward with plans to launch a rocket with an observation satellite onboard, despite threats of sanctions, the BBC reports.

The Unha-3 rocket is in position at the Sohae Satellite Station in northwestern North Korea and is set to launch next week. If successful, could indicate that North Korea possesses the long-range rocket capabilities to launch nuclear attacks on the United States and other countries.

The UN has banned North Korea, which already had nuclear weapons from any rocketry experimentation, and has concerns that the rocket launch is actually testing a nuclear missile, but the Korean government denies this.

"Our country has the right and also the obligation to develop satellites and launching vehicles," Jang Myong Jin, general manager of the launch facility, told the AP. "No matter what others say, we are doing this for peaceful purposes."

Red Cross Barred From Entering Syria

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The Red Cross has been blocked from sending aid to those recovering from government bombings in Syria today, the BBC reports.

The Red Cross said that their convoy, carrying 15 tons of food, medicine and blankets, was given permission to enter the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr. However, they were stopped in Homs with no explanation from the government

Baba Amr and Homs have been site to government-sanctioned bombing since the anti-government protest started last April. Though the government claims it is targeting gangs, civilians have been suffering the most in the systematic bombing.

The Associated Press quoted Paul Conroy, one of the few journalists successfully smuggled in and out of the country.

"It's not a war. It's a massacre -- indiscriminate massacre of men, women and children," he said. "It's snowing there now and these people can't make fires."

UN/Iran Nuclear Talks Fail

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The International Atomic Energy Agency visit to Iran has fallen through after the UN-mandated inspectors were barred from entering a nuclear research facility on Tuesday, the BBC reports.

A statement from the IAEA said that no headway had been made in clarifying allegations that Iran has been researching nuclear weapons. The inspectors' two-day visit, their second in three weeks, was called off after "intensive efforts" yielded no cooperation from the Iranian government.

A major sticking point in deliberations was access to a nuclear research site in Parchin which has aroused suspicion of weapons research and gained attention and threats of violence from Israel.

The Iranian government has repeatedly denied allegations that it has been developing nuclear weapons, claiming that its nuclear research is focused squarely on energy uses.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran, with a thoughtful, jurisprudent, theoretical approach, believes that owning a nuclear weapon is a big sin," said supreme Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to the Washington Post. "It also believes that keeping such a weapon is vain, harmful and dangerous."

The Arab League called on the United Nations Sunday to assist them in sending peacekeeping forces into Syria, the Washington Post reports.

At a meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo the Arab league appealed to the UN, asking for increased assistance in Syria, where increased government violence against protestors has threatened to erupt into an all out civil war. Bombings have rocked Homs and Zabadani for weeks, as the Syrian government attempts to quash civilian uprisings.

According to the New York Times, Syrian ambassador to the Arab League Yousef Ahmad was "not interested" in what the League had to say, and blamed their decision on growing "hysteria and confusion" in the other Arab states.

Syria and its allies, China and Russia, quickly rejected the proposition of UN peacekeeping forces entering the country, dividing the UN Security Counsel. It is unlikely that the UN will pursue any operation inside of Syria yet.

General Hossein Salami of Iran's Revolutionary Guard said in a statement Sunday that any country posing a threat to Iran and its nuclear facilities could be subject to an attack, the Associated Press reports.

Any spot used by the enemy for hostile operations against Iran will be subjected to retaliatory aggression by our armed forces," he said.

The statement comes as tensions over Iran have been ratcheted up another notch. International Atomic Energy Agency visited Iran last week and reported good talks, but did not actually visit any nuclear enrichment sites.

It has come out that a new enrichment site, built specifically to withstand airstrikes, is attempting to enrich Uranium up to 20%, and unprecedented number for Iran. The Iranian government continues to claim the research is devoted to energy. Weapons-grade Uranium is enriched to about 90%.

Iranian officials also elaborated on their response to increased sanctions from the West on Sunday, threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil route, and attacking Israel. According to the Guardian, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told reporters that "if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help. We have no fear expressing this." He also called Israel a "cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut".

Nuclear Inspection Underway in Iran

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A team representing the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency landed in Iran on Sunday to begin a three-day inspection of the country's nuclear facilities, the Associated Press reports.

The inspection comes in the wake of renewed tensions between Iran and western states, who have long sought to slow or halt Iran's uranium enrichment programs. Led by the United States, the 5+1 group (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) has recently imposed new sanctions on Iran.

In retaliation Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, which carries around 20% of the world's oil, according to AP. The Iranian state media has also accused the U.S. and Israel of ordering assassinations of top nuclear scientists, most recently Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan. Protesters carrying pictures of Roshan were waiting for the IAEA inspectors when they landed in Tehran early Sunday morning.

Despite these tensions, Iran is putting on an optimistic face over the inspections.

"The nuclear issue has taken the right course and our interaction with the agency has been good, and the cooperation has been close and extensive," said Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, according to the Tehran Times.

"We've always tried to put transparency as a principle in our cooperation with IAEA," Salehi also said. "During this visit, the delegation has questions and the necessary answers will be given," This stance represents a shift from Iran's previous frank refusal to discuss it's nuclear program.

The IAEA hopes to capitalize on this new attitude as their team questions nuclear scientest suspected of working on the weapons program, and inspects a number of nuclear enrichment labs, including a recently operational facility built into a mountain, which the UN fears was designed to resist air strikes.

"So we're looking forward to the start of a dialogue," IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts told the AP.

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