TEHRAN: Iran on Thursday “successfully” tested a satellite-launch rocket, days after warning Washington of a response to new US sanctions over the Islamic republic’s ballistic missile programme, state television said.
It said the launch vehicle, named Simorgh after a bird in Iranian mythology, was capable of propelling a satellite weighing 250 kilograms (550 pounds) to an altitude of 500 kilometres (300 miles) above earth.
The launch marked the official inauguration of Iran’s Imam Khomeini space centre, named after the late founder of the Islamic republic, built for sending satellites into space, the television said.
State television broadcast footage of the takeoff from the space centre in eastern Iran’s Semnan province, the site of past such launches.
The centre, whose exact location was not disclosed, is on “an immense site used for the preparation, launch, control and guidance of all satellite launch vehicles”, said the defence ministry which is in charge of Iran’s space programme.
“We can do it,” read a slogan on the rocket.
Western states suspect Iran of developing the technology capable of launching long-range ballistic missiles with conventional or nuclear payloads, a charge denied by Tehran which insists its space programme has purely peaceful aims.
Iran’s four other launches of domestically produced satellites since 2009 have all sparked condemnation in the West.
Hours after Iran’s latest announcement, the United States called the launch an act that undermined regional stability and said it appeared to violate UN Security Council resolutions.
“We consider that to be continued ballistic missile development,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters. “We consider this to be provocative action.”
Nauert added that if confirmed, the test could be a “violation of UN Security Council resolutions”.
Tensions have mounted between Washington and Tehran, which severed diplomatic ties after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, since US President Donald Trump took office six months ago.
President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Iran would respond in kind to any breach by the United States of a 2015 nuclear deal after the House of Representatives passed a new sanctions bill.
“If the enemy steps over part of the agreement, we will do the same, and if they step over the entire deal, we will do the same too,” Rouhani said at a cabinet meeting.
The Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign affairs committee said it would hold an extraordinary session on Saturday to discuss its formal response.
The parliament voted earlier this month to fast-track a bill introduced in June that would increase funds for Iran’s missile programme and Revolutionary Guards.
“We must always develop our defence capability and we will strengthen our defensive weapons regardless of the opinion of others,” Rouhani said.
The US House passed a new sanctions bill on Tuesday targeting the Revolutionary Guards over its missile programme.
As part of its space programme, Iran has also sent two capsules into space, the first in February 2010 carrying a rat, tortoises and insects, and the other in January 2013 when a monkey was sent into space and returned to earth safely, according to official media.