Iran launches rocket into space amid Vienna nuclear talks

Iran launched a rocket with a satellite carrying three devices into space, authorities said.

It was not clear when the launch took place or what devices the carrier brought with it, or if they entered Earth orbit.

Iran has released footage of the explosion in the context of negotiations in Vienna to restore Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers. An eighth round was underway this week and is set to resume in the new year.

Previous launches have drawn criticism from the United States.

It is not known if any of the objects carried by the rocket entered orbit around Earth (Iranian State TV / AP)

The US military did not respond to requests for comment on Iran’s Thursday announcement. The US State Department, however, said it remained concerned about Iran’s space launches, which it said “pose a significant proliferation problem” with respect to Tehran’s ballistic missile program.

Ahmad Hosseini, a Defense Ministry spokesperson, identified the rocket as a Simorgh, or “Phoenix” rocket, which sent the three missiles 290 miles away.

After initially saying the operation was carried out correctly, Mr Hosseini and other officials remained silent on the status of the objects, suggesting that the rocket had not placed its payload in the correct orbit.

A rocket is preparing to take off
The move comes amid talks in Vienna to restore the tattered nuclear deal with world powers (Iranian state television via AP)

Iran’s civilian space program has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years, including fatal fires and a rocket explosion on a launch pad that caught the attention of former US President Donald Trump.

Iranian state media recently offered a list of upcoming satellite launches planned for the Islamic Republic’s civilian space program.

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards run their own parallel program, which successfully put a satellite into orbit last year. Mr Hosseini called the launch announced Thursday “initial”, saying more are underway.

TV footage showed the white rocket emblazoned with the words “Simorgh satellite carrier” and the slogan “We can” shooting into the morning sky from Iran’s Imam Khomeini spaceport.

Tehran insists there is no military component in the material launched (Iranian Ministry of Defense / PA)

A state television reporter at a nearby desert site hailed the launch as “another achievement by Iranian scientists.”

The takeoffs have raised concerns in Washington about whether the technology used to launch satellites could advance Iran’s ballistic missile development.

The United States says such satellite launches defy a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Iran to stay clear of all activity related to ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

Iran, which has long said it is not looking for nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests lack a military component.

The rocket is preparing to take off
US officials were less optimistic about progress in Vienna talks (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)

Iran’s new demands in nuclear talks have infuriated Western nations and heightened regional tensions as Tehran continues to advance in the atomic realm. Diplomats have repeatedly sounded the alarm that time is running out to restore the deal, which collapsed three years ago when Mr. Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the deal.

From Vienna, Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani told Iranian state television he hoped diplomats would continue “more serious work to lift sanctions” when nuclear talks resume next week. He called last week’s negotiations “positive”.

Washington, however, has cast cold water on Tehran’s optimistic assessments. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters earlier this week that “it is really too early to say whether Iran has returned with a more constructive approach to this round.”

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