By NASSER KARIMI and ISABEL DEBRE, Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian state television said Sunday that Tehran had launched a solid-fueled rocket into space, drawing a rebuke from Washington ahead of the expected resumption of stalled talks over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
It’s unclear when or where exactly the rocket was launched, but the announcement came after satellite photos showed preparations at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province, the site of Iran’s frequent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit.
State-run media aired dramatic footage of the blastoff against the backdrop of heightened tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program, which is racing ahead under decreasing international oversight.
Iran had previously acknowledged that it planned multiple tests for the satellite-carrying Zuljanah rocket, named for the horse of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. It was not immediately clear whether Iran successfully launched the satellite carrier into its intended orbit.
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The White House said it was aware of Iran’s announcement and described such actions as “unhelpful and destabilizing.” It said it was committed to using sanctions and other measures to prevent further advances in Iran’s ballistic missile program.
The news comes after the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, traveled to Tehran in a push to resuscitate negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program that have stalemated for months. Several sticking points remain, including Tehran’s demand that Washington lift terrorism sanctions on its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
Borrell said that talks about the nuclear deal would resume in a Persian Gulf country in the coming days, with Iranian media reporting that Qatar would likely host the negotiations.
Former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed crushing sanctions on Iran. Tehran responded by greatly ramping up its nuclear work and now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
In a further escalation that limits international oversight into its nuclear program, Iran removed over two dozen International Atomic Energy Agency cameras from its nuclear sites this month.
Previous rocket launches have drawn rebukes from the United States, which says that such satellite launches defy a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Iran to steer clear of any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.
Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA quoted Ahmad Hosseini, spokesman for the Defense Ministry, as saying that the satellite carrier would gather information in low-earth orbit and serve to promote Iran’s nascent space program.
That program has seen recent troubles, even as Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. There have been five failed launches in a row for the Simorgh program, a type of satellite-carrying rocket. A fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
The launch pad used in the preparations for the launch of the Zuljanah rocket remains scarred from an explosion in August 2019 that even drew the attention of then-President Trump. He later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure. Satellite images from February suggested a failed Zuljanah launch earlier this year, though Iran did not acknowledge it.
Meanwhile, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in April 2020 revealed its own secret space program by successfully launching a satellite into orbit. The Guard operates its own military infrastructure parallel to Iran’s regular armed forces.
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