Iran launches satellite-carrying rocket into space

July 28, 2017 - 0:9

TEHRAN – Iran successfully launched on Thursday an advanced rocket that can deliver satellites into space, a significant improvement in its fledgling space program.  

The national television showed footage of the firing of the “Simorgh”, which means “phoenix” in Persian, saying it is capable of carrying a 250-kilogram satellite as far as 500 kilometers high into orbit.

The successful launch officially inaugurated the country’s Imam Khomeini National Space Station in Semnan province, some 220 kilometers east of Tehran. 

The Simorgh is a two-stage rocket first revealed in 2010. It is larger than an earlier model known as the Safir, or “ambassador,” that Iran has used to launch satellites on previous occasions.

The fluid-fuel Simorgh, about 26 meters (85 feet), is a two-stage rocket, propelled by a powerful engine. The engine mounted on the Simorgh is a combination of four Safir engines. 

The rocket, the largest unveiled ever, will be used to launch the domestically-built Earth observation satellite Tolou (Sunrise) in the near future.

“Today, space science and technology are of great importance to us,” President Hassan Rouhani said in an Instagram post on Thursday night. 

The test launch appears to be a direct, swift response to a Tuesday bipartisan bill by the U.S. House of Representatives that includes new sweeping sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea. 

The Iranian portion of the measure introduces new economic sanctions against Tehran over its ballistic missile program and what Washington calls the country’s “destabilizing role”. 

President Rouhani says: Today, space science and technology are of great importance to us.”Also, the rocket launch comes one week after the U.S. sanctioned 18 Iranian individuals and entities including two organizations for being involved with the nation’s ballistic-missile program. 

“This administration will continue to aggressively target Iran’s malign activity, including their ongoing state support of terrorism, ballistic missile program, and human rights abuses,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a press release. 

Such tests of what are essentially carrier rockets are not prohibited under the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of six world powers including the United States. The accord, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), removed economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country’s verifiable promises to restrict its nuclear program.

Last week, the Trump administration announced new Iran-related sanctions it said were meant to show its toughened stance toward the country despite having grudgingly affirmed its compliance with the nuclear deal.

Reacting to the launch, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Thursday: “Even though the JCPOA was put together to address nuclear issues, not necessarily ballistic missiles, we believe that what happened overnight and into the morning is in violation of the spirit of the JCPOA.” 

“We would consider that a violation of UNSCR 2231,” she added, a reference to a United Nations Security Council resolution which endorses the nuclear deal.  

The resolution "calls upon" Iran not to "undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology". 

It, however, does not expressly ban such activities, and Tehran denies it has missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads. Back in February, Washington failed to form a consensus in the Security Council on a ballistic medium-range missile by Iran. 

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump read the riot act to Tehran, saying lack of adherence to the terms of the deal is conducive to “big, big problems”. 

"If that deal doesn’t conform to what it’s supposed to conform to, it's going to be big, big problems for them. That I can tell you. Believe me," Trump said. 

Trump’s provocative words contradict numerous verifications by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which under the deal is charged with making sure Tehran keeps its side of the bargain. 

Since the JCPOA went into effect January of last year, the IAEA, which is hardly a sympathizer of Iran, has verified the country’s compliance six times, and when the IAEA  has spotted minor technical violations, Iran has made rapid corrections.

In comments after the U.S. sanctions move, Rouhani vowed retaliation, saying, "If the enemy breaches parts of the deal, we will breach parts of it," Rouhani said. "If they breach the entire deal, we will breach it in its entirety."

"We will reinforce our whole defensive weapons without paying attention to what others say," he added.

The rocket launch comes one week after the U.S. sanctioned 18 Iranian individuals and entities including two organizations for being involved with the nation’s ballistic-missile program.Experts now believe that Iran will monitor the U.S. to gauge its reaction to the missile launch. Hours before the launch was announced, senior U.S. officials told the Associated Press that the Trump administration was keen to test the strength of the JCPOA, hoping to eliminate what they claimed are “serious flaws” in the deal. 

To start, the administration is considering a follow-up agreement that prevents Iran from advancing its nuclear program after the deal expires. Officials also said the U.S. hopes to procure convincing evidence that the International Atomic Energy Agency should inspect Iranian military sites. 

Whether the latest rocket launch enhances or hinders these priorities remains to be seen, though one thing seems clear: “You want the breakup of [the JCPOA] to be about Iran,” said Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at an event on Wednesday. “You don’t want it to be about the U.S.”

However, Tehran has ruled out renegotiating the deal, saying it is already consolidated. 

If negotiations were to restart, "the demands by all sides would be very different. So that is why Iran and all other participants in the negotiations have said very clearly that this is not a deal that is open to renegotiation, because this is a multilateral deal, approved by the Security Council, and it's not a bilateral deal to be withdrawn from or to be renegotiated," Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said an interview with CBS News on July 18. 

Despite Iran’s categorical rejection of renegotiation, Foreign Policy Magazine cited three unnamed sources close to the White House as having said that Trump has instructed a group of trusted White House staffers to make the potential case for withholding certification of Iran at the next 90-day review of the nuclear deal. 

 “The goal was to give Trump what he felt the State Department had failed to do: the option to declare that Tehran was not in compliance with the contentious agreement,” FP maintained.


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