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Iran denies reports Moscow will use its new surveillance satellite for Ukraine war

Tehran says it will have sole access to information from the Russian-made Khayyam satellite, which is said to provide it with enhanced monitoring of Israel

This image taken from video footage aired by Iranian state television on March 8, 2022, shows the launch of a rocket by Iran's Revolutionary Guard carrying a Noor-2 satellite in northeastern Shahroud Desert, Iran. (Iranian state television via AP)
Illustrative: This image taken from video footage aired by Iranian state television on March 8, 2022, shows the launch of a rocket by Iran's Revolutionary Guard carrying a Noor-2 satellite in northeastern Shahroud Desert, Iran. (Iranian state television via AP)

TEHRAN — Iran said Sunday it will control “from day one” a satellite due to be launched by Russia within days, rejecting reports that it will initially serve Moscow in its war in Ukraine.

The Iranian remote sensing satellite, named Khayyam, is due to be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday, Russia’s State Space Corporation said earlier this week.

“All orders related to the control and operation of this satellite will be carried out and issued from day one and immediately after launch by Iranian experts based in Iran’s… space bases,” the Iranian Space Agency said in a statement.

The Washington Post on Thursday reported that Russia “plans to use the satellite for several months or longer” to assist its war efforts in Ukraine before allowing Iran to take control of it, according to anonymous Western intelligence officials.

They added that the satellite will provide Tehran with “unprecedented capabilities, including near-continuous monitoring of sensitive facilities in Israel” and in the Gulf.

But Moscow would first use the satellite to “enhance its surveillance of military targets” in the Ukraine conflict, the report said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, greet each other as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi stands at right, during their meeting in Tehran, Iran, July 19, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

The Iranian Space Agency dismissed the claims as “untrue,” adding that “no third country is able to access the information” sent by the satellite due to its “encrypted algorithm.”

The satellite, apparently named after 11th-12th century Persian polymath Omar Khayyam, aims to “monitor the country’s borders,” enhance agricultural productivity and monitor water resources and natural disasters, the Iranian agency said earlier this week.

The announcement regarding the new satellite was made two weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Tehran.

In June 2021, Putin denied a US media report that Russia was set to deliver an advanced satellite system to Iran that will vastly improve its spying capabilities.

Iran insists its space program is for civilian and defense purposes only, and does not breach the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, or any other international agreement.

Western governments worry that satellite launch systems incorporate technologies interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, something Iran has always denied wanting to build.

Iran successfully put its first military satellite into orbit in April 2020, drawing a sharp rebuke from the United States. In March, the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological arm of Iran’s armed forces, announced it had successfully put a military “reconnaissance satellite,” Nour-2, into orbit.

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