US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused Iran of posing a missile threat after Tehran defied his warnings and tried to put a satellite into orbit, albeit unsuccessfully.
Pompeo renewed his charge that the launch defied UN Security Council resolution 2231 of 2015, which endorsed an international agreement, from which the United States has withdrawn, on ending Iran’s nuclear weapons.
“In defiance of the international community & UNSCR 2231, Iran’s regime fired off a space launch vehicle today,” Pompeo tweeted.
“The launch yet again shows that Iran is pursuing enhanced missile capabilities that threaten Europe and the Middle East,” he wrote.
After the launch, Pompeo repeated his allegation that Iran’s space program could help it develop a missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon to the mainland US, criticism that comes amid the Trump administration’s maximalist approach against Tehran after withdrawing from the nuclear deal.
In defiance of the international community & UNSCR 2231, #Iran’s regime fired off a space launch vehicle today. The launch yet again shows that Iran is pursuing enhanced missile capabilities that threaten Europe and the Middle East.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 15, 2019
Pompeo said that the vehicle that Iran tried to put into orbit uses technology that is “virtually identical and interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.” He said the US is working with its partners “to counter the entire range of the Islamic Republic’s threats, including its missile program, which threatens Europe and the Middle East.”
The reaction was relatively muted for a member of US President Donald Trump’s administration, which has ramped up pressure for months on Iran in hopes of crippling its economy and scaling back its influence in the region.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promptly slammed Iran over the launch, accusing Tehran of lying and alleging that the “innocent satellite” was actually “the first stage of an intercontinental missile” Iran is developing in violation of international agreements.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. Tehran also says they don’t violate a United Nations resolution that only “called upon” it not to conduct such tests.
The rocket carrying the Payam satellite failed to reach the “necessary speed” in the third stage of its launch, Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi said.
Jahromi said the rocket had successfully passed its first and second stages before developing problems in the third. That suggests something went wrong after the rocket pushed the satellite out of the Earth’s atmosphere. He did not elaborate on what caused the failure, but promised that Iranian scientists would continue their work.
Iran had said that it plans to send two nonmilitary satellites, Payam and Doosti, into orbit. The Payam, which means “message” in Farsi, was an imagery satellite that Iranian officials said would help with farming and other activities.
It’s unclear how the failure of the Payam will affect the launch timing for the Doosti, which means “friendship.” Jahromi wrote on Twitter that “Doosti is waiting for orbit,” without elaborating.
Tuesday’s launch took place at Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran’s Semnan province, a facility under the control of the country’s Defense Ministry, Jahromi said. Satellite images published last week and first reported by CNN showed activity at the launch site. Given the facility’s launching corridor, the satellite likely fell in the Indian Ocean.
Iranian state television aired footage of its reporter narrating the launch of the rocket, shouting over its roar that it sent “a message of the pride, self-confidence and willpower of Iranian youth to the world!”
— Press TV (@PressTV) January 15, 2019
Iran says it has the right to satellite launches as well as missile tests, saying it needs to defend itself against real threats and that the activities do not involve a nuclear component.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.
Iran usually displays space achievements in February during the anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution. This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the revolution amid Iran facing increasing pressure from the US under the administration of Trump.