This photo released on Thursday, June 16, 2011, by the Iranian Defense Ministry, claims to show the Safir, or Ambassador, satellite launching rocket, which will carry Iran's Rasad, or Observation, satellite into earth orbit, in an undisclosed location. Iran has launched a satellite into earth orbit, state television reported, in a feat that is likely to raise concerns among those who fear Iran's intentions and nuclear development program. The report said the locally produced satellite, called Rasad, or observation, was launched successfully by a Safir missile on Wednesday. There was no independent confirmation of the launch or of the satellite achieving orbit. (AP Photo/Iranian Defense Ministry,Vahid Reza Alaei)
Iran Claims Launch of Satellite Into Space
By Amir Vahdat & Adam Schreck
Tehran, Iran -- Iran successfully launched its most advanced satellite-carrying rocket into space on Thursday, the country's state media reported, in what is likely the most significant step yet for the launch vehicle.
A confirmed launch of the ``Simorgh'' rocket would also mark another step forward for the Islamic Republic's young space program, but is likely to raise alarm among its adversaries, who fear the same technology could be used to produce long-range missiles.
Iranian state television said the rocket, whose name means ``phoenix'' in Persian, is capable of carrying a satellite weighing 250 kilograms (550 pounds). The report did not elaborate on the rocket's payload. Other state-linked agencies including the semi-official Fars news agency also described the launch as successful.
Iran frequently announces technological breakthroughs that are difficult to independently verify. It has carried out multiple tests of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles as well as other domestically produced weapons over the years.
The Simorgh is a two-stage rocket first revealed in 2010. It is larger than an earlier model known as the Safir, or ``ambassador,'' that Iran has used to launch satellites on previous occasions.
The launch comes as the United States has criticized Iran's ballistic missile tests, which American officials argue violate the spirit of the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran struck with world powers. Under the agreement, which does not expressly prohibit missile tests, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Iran has pursued a satellite launch program for years. The U.S. and its allies worry that the same technology could be used to develop long-range missiles.
The country has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit over the past decade, and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. But it recently abandoned plans to potentially send humans into orbit, saying in late May that the cost of doing so was prohibitive.
The U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center said in a report released last month that the Simorgh could act as a test bed for developing the technologies needed to produce an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM.
``Tehran's desire to have a strategic counter to the United States could drive it to field an ICBM. Progress in Iran's space program could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles (SLV) use inherently similar technologies,'' the report said.
Iran's satellite-launch program falls under the responsibility of the defence ministry, which has denied that the space program is a cover for weapons development.
The head of Iran's space agency in October expressed for the first time interest in co-operating with NASA. Iran has offered to share its scientific findings and satellite data with other countries.
Iran's most recent known successful satellite rocket launch was in February 2015, when it put an imaging satellite known as ``Fajr'' into orbit. That launch happened while Iran was negotiating the nuclear deal.
It is believed to have carried out at least a partial test of the Simorgh rocket last year, though the exact details of that attempt were never made public.
Iran choice in timing to launch the rocket now likely serves as a test of America's reaction, said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst with the Washington-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies, a conservative think-tank long critical of the nuclear deal.
Taleblu said Thursday's launch had implications not only on Iran's ability to launch satellites, but also in possibly building intercontinental ballistic missiles.
If Iran begins working on heat shields and other technology allowing for a rocket's payload to re-enter Earth's atmosphere, that would be a major warning sign, he said.
``This will take time, but the Iranian ballistic missile, nuclear, and space program shows that slow and steady always wins the race,'' Taleblu said.
Schreck reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
The Canadian Press & the Associated Press. All rights are reserved.
US Navy Fires Warning Shots Near Iran Ship in Persian Gulf
By Jon Gambrell
Dubai, United Arab Emirates -- A U.S. Navy patrol boat fired warning shots Tuesday near an Iranian vessel that American sailors said came dangerously close to them during a tense encounter in the Persian Gulf, the first such incident to happen under President Donald Trump. Iran's hard-line Revolutionary Guard later blamed the American ship for provoking the situation.
The encounter involving the USS Thunderbolt, a Cyclone-class patrol ship based in Bahrain as part of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, is the latest confrontation between Iranian vessels and American warships. It comes as Trump already has threatened to renegotiate the nuclear deal struck by his predecessor and after his administration previously put Iran ``on notice'' over its ballistic missile tests.
The Thunderbolt was taking part in an exercise with American and other coalition vessels in international waters when the Iranian patrol boat approached it, 5th Fleet spokesman Lt. Ian McConnaughey said. The Iranian ship did not respond to radio calls, flares and horn blasts as it came within 150 yards (137 metres) of the Thunderbolt, forcing the U.S. sailors aboard to fire the warning shots, McConnaughey said.
``After the warning shots were fired, the Iranian vessel halted its unsafe approach,'' the lieutenant said in a statement, adding that the Iranian vessel created ``a risk for collision.'' Large ships can't stop immediately on the water, meaning getting close to each other risks a collision.
Video released by the Navy included a sailor giving a position off the eastern coast of Kuwait as the Iranian vessel sat directly in front of an American warship's bow. Another video included images of the Iranian ship off the Thunderbolt as its horn blared. The sound of machine-gun fire followed.
Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard instead blamed the Thunderbolt for the incident in a statement, saying the American vessel moved toward one of its patrol boats. It said the Thunderbolt fired into the air ``with the intention to provoke and create fear.''
Iran and the U.S. frequently have tense naval encounters in the Persian Gulf, nearly all involving the Revolutionary Guard, a separate force from Iran's military that answers only to the country's supreme leader. The last one to involve warning shots happened in January near the end of then-President Barack Obama's term, when the USS Mahan fired shots toward Iranian fast attack boats as they neared the destroyer in the Strait of Hormuz.
The U.S. Navy recorded 35 instances of what it describes as ``unsafe and/or unprofessional'' interactions with Iranians forces in 2016, compared to 23 in 2015. Some analysts believe the incidents at sea are meant in part to squeeze moderate President Hassan Rouhani's administration after the 2015 nuclear deal, like hard-liners' arrests of dual nationals.
Of the incidents at sea last year, the worst involved Iranian forces capturing 10 U.S. sailors and holding them overnight. It became a propaganda coup for Iran's hard-liners, as Iranian state television repeatedly aired footage of the Americans on their knees, their hands on their heads.
Iranian forces view the American presence in the Gulf as a provocation by itself. They in turn have accused the U.S. Navy of unprofessional behaviour, especially in the Strait of Hormuz, the mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil trade by sea passes.
The Canadian Press & the Associated Press. All rights are reserved.