Iran launches three 'research payload' rockets into space

Iran launches three ‘research payload’ rockets into space – ignoring US criticism that the tech could be used to launch nukes – as the country continues nuclear deal negotiations

  • Iran has said it fired a satellite rocket carrying three research devices into space
  • They did not say if the rocket reached orbit, or what its research objectives were
  • It comes amid fresh talks in Vienna over the revival of the Iran Nuclear Deal

Iran has used a satellite launch rocket to send three research devices into space, a defence ministry spokesman said today, without clarifying if it reached orbit.

Iran, which has one of the biggest missile programmes in the Middle East, has suffered several failed satellite launches in the past few years due to technical issues.

Spokesman Ahmad Hosseini said the ‘Simorgh’ satellite carrier rocket had launched the three research devices at an altitude of 290 miles.

‘The intended research objectives of this launch were achieved,’ Hosseini said, in comments broadcast on state television. 

Iranian state television released footage of the rocket which was fired into space today, carrying three research devices

Pictured: The Iranian satellite carrier Simorgh, is seen at an unknown location prior to launch today

‘This was done as a preliminary launch… God willing, we will have an operational launch soon.’

Iranian state television showed footage of what it said was the firing of the launch vehicle.

The United States has criticised Iran’s satellite launch attempts, claiming long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also be used to launch nuclear warheads.

Tehran denies such activity is a cover for ballistic missile development.

In February, Iran announced a successful test of its most powerful solid fuel satellite launcher to date, the Zoljanah, boasting that it can put a 220-kilogramme (1,100-pound) payload into orbit.

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

Spokesman Ahmad Hosseini said that the research objectives of the launch had been successful, but did not elaborate on what these were

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

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.

The 2015 agreement has been hanging by a thread since the US left 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, after they broke up at the end of last week without agreement as Iran’s top diplomat went back home to seek further guidance on measures to be put in place. 

European diplomats said it was ‘a disappointing pause’ and that negotiators in Vienna are ‘rapidly reaching the end of the road.’ 

However, they did point to ‘some technical progress’ so far.

A senior U.S. official involved in the talks also expressed frustration. 

‘It was better than it might have been, it was worse than it should have been, which leaves us in an uncertain position as to whether we can get to where we need to go in the short time that we have left to get there,’ the official said.

Participants said they aim to resume quickly, though they haven’t yet firmed up a date. China’s chief negotiator, Wan Qun, said the talks will ‘resume hopefully before the end of the year.’ 

Enrique Mora, the European Union diplomat who chaired the talks, echoed that, saying: ‘I hope it will be during 2021.’ 

The United States has participated indirectly in the ongoing talks because it withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump. 

Pictured: Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen outside the Palais Coburg in Vienna earlier this week on December 27

President Joe Biden has signaled that he wants to rejoin the deal.

‘For the eighth round, we have a lot of work ahead, a very complex task, I have to say,’ Mora said. ‘Difficult political decisions have to be taken.’

The original accord was meant to rein in Iran’s nuclear program in return for loosened economic sanctions. 

Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China are still part of the agreement.

Negotiators from the three Western European powers said they ‘respect’ Iranian negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani’s decision to return to Tehran ‘though it brings a disappointing pause in negotiations.’ 

They said the other participants were ready to continue the talks, and stressed that ‘this negotiation is becoming ever more urgent.’

Negotiations in Vienna (pictured on December 9) broke up at the end of last week without agreement as Iran’s top diplomat went back home to seek further guidance on measures to be put in place

After twice expressing frustration during the recent talks, they said that ‘there has been some technical progress in the last 24 hours, but this only takes us back nearer to where the talks stood in June.’ 

‘We hope that Iran is in a position to resume the talks quickly, and to engage constructively so that talks can move at a faster pace,’ the European negotiators said.

Iran’s nuclear program ‘is now more advanced than it has ever been,’ making it critical that Tehran refrain from taking further steps that escalate the situation, they said.

‘As we have said, there are weeks not months before the JCPOA’s core non-proliferation benefits are lost,’ they added. ‘We are rapidly reaching the end of the road for this negotiation.’

Russia’s delegate to the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, said the latest round has set a ‘sound basis for more intensive negotiations.’

‘The negotiators now much better understand each other,’ Ulyanov wrote on Twitter.

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