Iran Tests Satellite Rocket Launcher

A01955088.jpgTEHRAN (FNA) – Iran launched a domestically-built rocket as a test for sending the Islamic republic’s first homemade research satellite into orbit by March next year.

The rocket blasted off from a launch pad in desert terrain in the northern Semnan province.

“We need to have an active and influential presence in space,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a televised ceremony ahead of the launch.

The satellite, called Omid (Hope), would be launched in the next Iranian year, which ends in March 2009.

In November Iran announced that it had built a new missile with a range of 2,000km, a step analysts at the time said could add more power to Iran’s conventional arsenal.

Western capitals allege that Iran is seeking to master technology so it can build nuclear warheads, but Iran insists its plans are peaceful.

The US is at loggerheads with Iran over Tehran’s independent and home-grown nuclear technology. Washington has laid much pressure on Iran to make it give up the most sensitive and advanced part of the technology, which is uranium enrichment, a process used for producing nuclear fuel for power plants.

Washington’s push for additional UN penalties contradicted a recent report by 16 US intelligence bodies that endorsed the civilian nature of Iran’s programs. Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and a similar report by the IAEA head in November which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities, Russia and China increased resistance to any further punitive measures by the Security Council.

Tehran says it never worked on atomic weapons and wants to enrich uranium merely for civilian purposes, including generation of electricity, a claim substantiated by the NIE and IAEA reports.

Iran has insisted it would continue enriching uranium because it needed to provide fuel to a 300-megawatt light-water reactor it was building in the southwestern town of Darkhovin.

Iran has also pledged to clear up all remaining questions over the program by late February.

Not only many Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also many other world nations have called the UN Security Council pressure unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports saying Iran had increased cooperation with the agency.

US President George W. Bush, who finished a tour of the Middle East earlier this month has called on his Arab allies to unite against Iran.

But hosting officials of the regional nations dismissed Bush’s allegations, describing Tehran as a good friend of their countries.

Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran has lost steam due to the IAEA and US intelligence reports.

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