Iran launches rocket into space during Vienna nuclear talks

TEHRAN (AP) -- Iran launched a rocket carrying a satellite carrier with three devices into space on Thursday. Authorities did not say whether any of these objects have entered Earth's orbit.

Iran launches rocket into space during Vienna nuclear talks

It wasn't clear when the launch took place or what the carrier carried. Iran broadcast footage of the explosion against the background of Vienna negotiations to repair Tehran's broken nuclear agreement with the world powers. A total of eight rounds were underway during this week, and will resume after the New Year holidays.

The United States has rebuked previous launches. Requests for comment from the Pentagon, U.S. Space Force, and State Department regarding Thursday's announcement by Iran were not immediately returned.

Ahmad Hosseini (a Defense Ministry spokesperson) identified the rocket as a Simorgh or "Phoenix" rocket that launched the three devices over 470 km (290 miles).

Hosseini said, "The performance was good for the space center and for the satellite carrier."

Hosseini, along with other officials, remained silent hours later on the status of the objects. This suggested that the rocket had not placed its payload in the correct orbit. Hosseini suggested a speed for satellite carrier, which state-associated journalists covering the event said wouldn't be sufficient to reach orbit.

In recent years, Iran's civil space program has experienced a number of setbacks including fatal fires as well as a launchpad rocket blast that attracted the attention of Donald Trump.

Recent announcements by the Iranian state media included a list listing planned satellite launches to support the Islamic Republic's civil space program. The Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard has its own parallel program, which successfully launched a satellite into orbit last ye. Hosseini called Thursday's launch "initial" and indicated that more launches are in the pipeline.

Television broadcast footage of the white rocket, with its slogan "We can" and "Simorgh satellite carrier" launching into the morning sky at Iran's Imam Khomeini Spaceport. The launch was hailed by a state TV reporter from a desert site nearby.

Washington is concerned that the technology used for satellite launches could be used to advance Iran's missile development. According to the United States, such satellite launches are in violation of a resolution by the United Nations Security Council urging Iran not to engage in any activities related to ballistic missiles capable delivering nuclear weapons.

Iran, which has long maintained its non-interest in nuclear weapons, insists that satellite launches and rocket testing do not contain a military component.

An announcement of a rocket launch in the midst diplomats trying to restore Tehran's nuclear accord is consistent with Tehran's hardline position under President Ebrahim Rashi, a conservative cleric who was recently elected.

As Tehran pushes forward with its nuclear advancements, new Iranian demands have exacerbated tensions in the region and exasperated Western countries. Diplomats repeatedly warned that it is too late to save the agreement, which was dissolved three years ago by Trump's unilateral withdrawal.

Ali Bagheri Kani, Iran's nuclear negotiator, spoke from Vienna to Iranian state TV. He said that he hoped diplomats would do "more serious work" to lift sanctions when talks resume next week. He called the last week's negotiations "positive."

Washington has however reacted negatively to Tehran's positive assessments. Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department, told reporters this week that it was too early to know if Iran will return with a more constructive approach in this round.

Iran has removed all restrictions under the agreement and has increased uranium enrichment to below 4% purity to 60%. This is a technical step away from weapons-grade levels. Monitoring Tehran's progress is difficult for international inspectors.

The Associated Press saw satellite images that suggested a launch was imminent earlier in the month. These images show preparations at Iran's rural Semnan, which is 240 km (150 miles) southwest of Tehran.

Iran has launched several satellites into orbit over the past decade. In 2013, Iran also sent a monkey into space. The government seems to have shifted its focus towards space under Raisi. The first meeting of the Supreme Council of Space of Iran has been held in over 11 years.

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