DUBAI, Feb 9 (Reuters) – Iran will launch a satellite into orbit on Sunday, an Iranian minister said, as part of a fledgling programme which the United States says is a cover for ballistic missile development.
State television said Iran‘s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is in charge of the missile programme, had also unveiled a new short-range missile.
The announcements come at a time of high tension with the United States, which killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting Iran to carry out a missile attack on a U.S. military base in Iraq.
Iranian Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi was quoted by state television as saying the Zafar (Victory) satellite would be launched from Iran‘s Semnan space centre.
The first picture it will transmit will be of Soleimani, he added.
Tehran launched the first Iranian-made satellite in 2009, another in 2011 and a third in 2012, but at least two satellite launches last year failed.
The United States says it is concerned that long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also be used to launch nuclear warheads.
Tehran says it has never pursued the development of nuclear weapons, and denies that its aerospace programme is a cover for missile development. Iran‘s clerical rulers have said Tehran’s missile programme is solely defensive.
In a separate report, state television said the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, in charge of the country’s missile programme, had unveiled a short-range missile that was made by Iran.
It said the Raad-500, or thunder in Farsi, was half the weight of a similar missile, the Fateh-110, but its range was about 200 km (120 miles) more and it could be powered by a new generation of engines designed to put satellites into orbit.
There was no immediate U.S. comment on the announcements.
Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran after President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers.
Under that deal, Tehran curbed its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions on Iran.
But the United States said the agreement was flawed because it was not permanent, did not address Iran’s missile programme and did not involve what Washington considers Iran‘s meddling in regional countries.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Timothy Heritage)