Iran still planning three satellite launches this year, despite ramped up U.S. pressure: minister


GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran said on Tuesday it would press ahead with the launch of three satellites into orbit this year despite a U.S. move to curb Tehran’s ballistic missile program which Washington says has been advanced by the satellite activity.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he would name Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, a move partly intended to curb the Islamic Republic’s development of ballistic missiles. 

The United States fears long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also be used to launch nuclear warheads.

Iranian Telecoms Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi told Reuters in Geneva on Tuesday that Tehran would stick to its plans to launch three satellites and denied the U.S. accusation that such activity is a cover for ballistic missile development.

“The rockets which have currently been developed in Iran for carrying satellites are not something that are a cover for another kind of rocket activity,” Azari-Jahromi said in an interview on the sidelines of a conference in Geneva.

“Because if Iran wants to have missile activity it’s something that it is doing openly. It’s not something that is hidden. It’s part of our right to defense.”

An Iranian attempt to launch a satellite in January failed, prompting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to tweet: “The launch yet again shows that Iran is pursuing enhanced missile capabilities that threaten Europe and the Middle East.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with NBC News in February that Iran’s bid to launch a second satellite had also failed.

Azari-Jahromi said Iran’s satellite program is intended for peaceful purposes such as helping manage water resources and protect the environment.

The Islamic Republic has been hit by devastating flooding since mid-March that has killed at least 70 people and inundated some 1,900 communities.

Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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