TEHRAN - Reuters
Iran said it had put a dummy satellite into orbit on a homegrown rocket for the first time on Sunday -- a move likely to increase Western concerns about its nuclear ambitions. The long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into space can also be used for launching weapons, although Iran says it has no plans to do so.
"The Safir (Ambassador) satellite carrier was launched today (Sunday) and for the first time we successfully launched a dummy satellite into orbit," Reza Taghizadeh, head of the Iranian Aerospace Organization, told state television.
Iran, embroiled in a standoff with the West over its nuclear ambitions, caused international concern in February by testing another domestically made rocket as part of its satellite programme, the Explorer 1. Iranian officials said at the time it needed two more similar launches before putting a domestically made satellite into orbit.
France and Russia both said that test raised the suspicion that Iran was seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Washington has accused Iran of aiming to equip missiles with nuclear warheads, called it 'unfortunate'. It cites Iran's missile potential, among others, as the reason why it needs to install an anti-missile defence system in eastern Europe. Iran already claims to have missiles with a range of 2,000 km (1,250 miles), meaning it could hit Israel or U.S. military bases in the Gulf. The West accuses Iran of trying to obtain nuclear arms under cover of a civilian program.
Iran, the world's fourth largest oil producer, insists it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was present at Iran's space center and read out the launch countdown, state television reported. It said he had "congratulated the Iranian nation on the great achievement". Iranian television showed the rocket on its desert launch pad, but did not show the actual lift-off.
Few details were available about the rocket or its payload. Western experts say Iran rarely provides enough details for them to determine the extent of its technological advances, but that much Iranian technology consists of modifications of equipment supplied by China, North Korea and others.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran for defying demands that it suspend its uranium enrichment program. Ahmadinejad insisted international sanctions had made Iran even stronger, IRNA reported. "Sanctions have not isolated us. Instead, we have become more independent," he said after the launch.