Sunday, February 25, 2007

Iran 'launches rocket into space'


Iran has successfully fired its first rocket into space, Iranian state television has announced.

It gave few details about the rocket or its range, but said that it had carried cargo intended for research.

Iran already has a civilian satellite programme but has relied on Russia to put its satellites into orbit.

The launch - if confirmed - comes at a time of mounting tension between Tehran and the West over Iran's controversial nuclear programme.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany are due to meet on Monday to discuss the possibility of more sanctions over the nuclear issue.

On Sunday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered another defiant speech insisting there is no going back on Iran's nuclear programme.

In a speech in Teheran, likened his country's nuclear programme to a train with no brakes and no reverse gear.

One of his deputy foreign ministers, Manouchehr Mohammadi, said they had prepared themselves for any situation arising from the issue, even for war.

The BBC's Frances Harrison's in Tehran says the timing of the rocket launch announcement is clearly confrontational.

Iran's message is that sanctions will not prevent it from joining the space club now that it claims to be a member of the nuclear club based on its limited enrichment of uranium, our correspondent says.

Britain's former ambassador to Iran, Sir Richard Dalton, told the BBC that, if confirmed, such a move could destabilise the Middle East:

"It is a matter of concern. Iran's potential nuclear military programme, combined with an advanced missile capability, would destabilise the region, and of course if there were a bomb that could be placed on the end of this missile, it would in breach of Iran's obligations under the non-proliferation treaty."

Iranian TV broke the news of the reported test saying :"The first space rocket has been successfully launched into space.

It quoted the head of Iran's aerospace research centre, Mohsen Bahrami, as saying that "the rocket was carrying material intended for research created by the ministries of science and defence".

The ballistic technology used is believed to be an extension of Iran's long-range Shahab-3 missile, our correspondent says.

According to our correspondent, military experts believe that if Iran has sent a rocket into space it means scientists have mastered the technology needed to cross the atmospheric barrier.

In practice, they say, that means there is no technological block to Iran building longer range missiles now, something that will be of great international concern.

In 2005, Iran's Russian-made satellite was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.

But shortly afterwards Iranian military officials said they were preparing a satellite launch vehicle of their own and last month, they announced they were ready to test it soon.

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