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Iranian Rocket Launch Triggers New Concerns

August 19, 2008

In a move that could further aggravate tensions between Iran and the West, Tehran said it has launched a rocket, the Safir-e Omid (Hope Envoy), capable of carrying a satellite into space.

While showing footage of the launch, Iranian state television proclaimed that the rocket is capable of putting "a light satellite into low earth orbit," between 250 and 500 kilometers above the Earth.

Iranian authorities said the rocket, launched on August 17 as President Mahmud Ahmadinejad watched, is entirely Iranian-made.

Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar also declared that Iran will soon send its first homemade satellite into orbit.

The development sparked fresh concerns among Western governments already wary of Iran's controversial nuclear program.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council, Gordon Johndroe, said, "the Iranian development and testing of rockets is troubling and raises further questions about their intentions."

Washington said the technology could be used for Iran's ballistic-missile program.

France and Russia have reportedly claimed the rocket launch raised suspicions that Tehran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon.

The rocket was launched amid a standoff between Iran and the West over Tehran's refusal to halt sensitive nuclear activities, which some countries suspect could be used to develop a nuclear weapon -- a claim repeatedly rejected by Iran.

Iran, for its part, accused the West of trying "to distort Iran's scientific achievements by portraying them as a military issue."

Defense Minister Najjar was quoted by IRNA as saying that "Enemies of the progress of the Iranian nation have not spared any efforts to portray Iran's scientific, technical, and peaceful achievements as a military success."

Iran says that as an earthquake-prone country it needs its own satellite to monitor natural disasters and also wants to improve its telecommunications.

Reza Taghipour, the head of Iran's space agency, said on August 18 that Iran intends to build several satellites, and one of them will be constructed with other Islamic countries for their common use.

Taghipour said construction of the Besharat (Good News) satellite would begin in Iran once the Organization of the Islamic Conference allocates funds for it.

Exaggerated Claims

But Iran's claims about its technological and scientific advances are often downplayed by international experts.

Hooshang Hassan-Yari, a professor of the Royal Military College of Canada, tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Iran is not yet capable of building its own satellites.

"After testing the rocket, [Tehran] announced that it will take some time for Iran to put a satellite into orbit with this rocket. It means that Iran still doesn't have the technology used by Western countries," Hassan-Yari says.

"In the past, similar words were said about Iran's nuclear capabilities. Therefore, Iran still -- at least with its latest rocket launch -- cannot enter a competition with countries like France or the EU in general, the U.S., or even Israel."

Yitzhak Ben Israel, the head of Israel's space agency, told AFP that real threats posed by Iran come from its nuclear programs, not from its satellites or ballistic missiles.

"Iran still has a long way to go as far as satellites are concerned and it deliberately exaggerates its air and space successes in order to dissuade Israel or the U.S. from attacking its nuclear sites," he said.

In 2005, Iran put a Russian-made satellite, Sina-1, into orbit. It was carried by a Russian-made rocket.

In February, Iran reportedly tested the domestically built rocket Explorer 1 to be a part of its satellite program.

At that time, Tehran claimed it needed two similar launches before it could send an Iranian-made satellite into space.

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Iranian_Rocket_Launch_Triggers_New_Concerns/1192231.html

Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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