Iran announces new space launch amid nuclear talks

·2-min read

Iran announced Thursday it has carried out a new space launch, in a move likely to irk Western powers amid tough talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.

"The Simorgh (Phoenix) satellite launcher carried three research cargos into space," defence ministry spokesman Ahmad Hosseini said, quoted by state television.

"The research goals foreseen for this launch have been achieved," Hosseini added, without elaborating on the nature of the research.

"This was a preliminary launch. We will have operational launches in the near future."

The television aired footage of a rocket rising from a desert launchpad.

It gave no details of its location although US media reported earlier this month that preparations for a launch were under way at Iran's space centre in Semnan, 300 kilometres (190 miles) east of Tehran.

In February, Iran announced it had launched its most powerful solid fuel rocket to date, the Zoljanah, boasting that it can put a 220-kilogramme (480-pound) payload into orbit.

The United States voiced concern about that launch, saying the test could boost Iran's ballistic missile technology at a time when the two nations are inching back to diplomacy.

Iran successfully put its first military satellite into orbit in April 2020, drawing a sharp rebuke from Washington.

But according to the Pentagon and satellite imagery of the Semnan centre, an Iranian satellite launch failed in mid-June. Tehran denied it failed.

Western governments worry that satellite launch systems incorporate technologies interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

Iran insists its space programme is for civilian and defence purposes only, and does not breach the nuclear deal or any other international agreement.

UN Security Council Resolution 2231 of 2015, endorsing the nuclear deal, imposed no blanket ban on Iranian rocket or missile launches.

"Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology," the text said.

The 2015 agreement has been hanging by a thread since then president Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to step up nuclear activities long curtailed by the deal.

A new round of negotiations began in Vienna on Monday in a fresh push to make headway on reviving the deal.

The aim is to bring back Washington and curtail Tehran's nuclear activities.

Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are taking part in the negotiations with Iran, while the United States is participating indirectly.

"There may have been some modest progress," State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday.

ap/kir/hc

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