Iran’s Guards say launched first military satellite into orbit

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps said on Wednesday it had successfully launched the country’s first military satellite into orbit, at a time of heightened tensions with the United States over Tehran’s nuclear and missile programmes.

U.S. officials have said they fear long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also be used to launch nuclear warheads. Tehran denies U.S. assertions that such activity is a cover for ballistic missile development and says it has never pursued the development of nuclear weapons.

“Iran’s first military satellite, Noor, was launched this morning from the central desert of Iran. The launch was successful and the satellite reached orbit,” state TV said.

The satellite, whose name Noor means “Light”, was orbiting 425 km (264 miles) above the earth’s surface, they said in a statement on their website.

The force said it used the Qased, or “Messenger”, satellite carrier to launch Noor, without giving details of the technology.

“The three-stage Qased satellite launcher uses a combination of solid and liquid fuels,” it said.

TV footage showed the satellite carrier was inscribed with a verse of the Koran that Muslims often recite when travelling: “Glory to Him who has subjected this to us, as we could never have done it by our own efforts”.

Regional tensions have been high since the start of the year.

In the latest sabre-rattling, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he had instructed the U.S. Navy to fire on Iranian ships if harassed, a week after the United States said 11 vessels from the Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) came dangerously close to U.S. vessels in the Gulf.

“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” Trump wrote in a tweet, hours after Tehran’s announcement of the satellite launch.

Iran immediately reacted by saying that The United States should focus on saving its military from the coronavirus disease “instead of bullying others”.

In early January, top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad. Iran retaliated on Jan. 9 by firing missiles at bases in Iraq where U.S. troops were stationed.

NUCLEAR DEAL

Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran following Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from a 2015 international accord designed to put curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for Tehran halting its sensitive nuclear work.

Trump said the nuclear deal did not go far enough and also did not include restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile programme and support for its proxies in the Middle East.

Israel, which Tehran refuses to recognise, called on the international community to condemn Iran’s satellite launch.

“Israel calls upon the international community … to impose further sanctions on the Iranian regime. All in order to deter it from continuing such dangerous and opposing activity,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Despite the launch, analysts said Tehran and Washington would not seek a conventional war.

“This is psychological warfare to send a message and tell the adversary that ‘we are ready to stop any offensive’,” Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army brigadier general and analyst, told Reuters.

“Iran is using this policy as a deterrence. But the result: No effect on the ground. No dramatic effect… Nobody is ready to handle any consequences of war, not America, not Iran or anyone.”

The United States argues that such launches by Iran breach United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon Tehran not to undertake activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

The resolution, which endorsed the nuclear pact between Iran and six major powers, stops short of explicitly barring such activity. Iran says its space programme is peaceful.

Iran’s Guards, which report to the country’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have repeatedly warned that U.S. regional bases and its aircraft carriers in the Gulf are within the range of Iranian missiles.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Alex Richardson)

Iran to launch satellite in program that U.S. links to missiles

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will launch a satellite into orbit by the end of this week, a government minister said on Monday, as part of a fledging program that the United States says is a cover for ballistic missile development.

“We are not afraid of failure and we will not lose hope. With your prayers and trust in God, the Zafar satellite by the end of this week … will be heading toward an orbit of 530 km from Earth,” Iranian Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi tweeted.

Iran had at least two failed satellite launches last year.

The United States fears long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also be used to launch nuclear warheads. Tehran denies that satellite activity is a cover for missile development and says it has never pursued the development of nuclear weapons.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran following Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from an international accord designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

Trump said the nuclear deal did not go far enough and did not include restrictions on Tehran’s missile program.

Tensions have reached the highest level in decades between Iran and the United States after Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3, prompting Iran to retaliate with a missile attack against a U.S. base in Iraq.

Iran launched its first satellite Omid (Hope) in 2009 and the Rasad (Observation) satellite was sent into orbit in June 2011. Tehran said in 2012 that it had successfully put its third domestically-made satellite Navid (Promise) into orbit.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Alison Williams and Pravin Char)

NATO weighs options to deter new Russian missile threat

Banners displaying the NATO logo are placed at the entrance of new NATO headquarters during the move to the new building, in Brussels, Belgium April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

By Robin Emmott and Phil Stewart

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO defense ministers considered on Wednesday how to deter Russia from launching a missile attack at short notice on Europe if a landmark treaty against land-based nuclear warheads collapses next month.

Barring a last-minute reversal by Russia that NATO does not expect, the United States is set to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) on Aug. 2 citing Russia’s development of a missile that breaks the accord.

Moscow says it is fully compliant with the INF treaty negotiated by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, which eliminated the medium-range missile arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.

“Ministers have agreed that NATO will respond should Russia fail to return to compliance,” Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after the meeting in Brussels.

“They will have to bear the full responsibility for the demise of the treaty,” although he said NATO would not place nuclear-capable, land-based medium-range missiles in Europe, as happened in the 1980s.

U.S. and British intelligence shows Russia has conducted tests of the SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missile that violate the treaty ban on land-based missiles with a range of 500 km to 5,500km (300-3,400 miles), NATO diplomats say.

NATO says the missiles are hard to detect and have a shorter warning time than long-range rockets, raising the chances of nuclear weapons being used in conflict.

The missile dispute marks a further worsening of East-West ties that have deteriorated since Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and has prompted fears of an arms race between Russia, the United States and China, which is also developing missiles.

Stoltenberg said defense ministers looked at options including more exercises, using conventional weapons and improving intelligence and surveillance, as well as air defense.

Diplomats told Reuters that flights of F16 warplanes and B52 bombers capable of carrying nuclear warheads and re-positioning sea-based missile systems were also under consideration.

Such steps are meant to underline NATO’s determination to protect Europe and raise the economic and military costs for Russia of any possible missile attack.

Luxembourg’s Defence Minister François Bausch said that while diplomats would continue to urge Moscow to destroy the SSC-8 missile, NATO also needed “a military answer” because the security of Europe was at stake.

FINAL DIPLOMATIC PUSH

NATO envoys are expected to meet Russian officials in the NATO-Russia Council forum next week to make a last-ditch attempt to save the INF treaty before the August deadline.

Kathryn Wheelbarger, an acting U.S. assistant secretary of defense, said that while there was still time for Russia to change course, “we don’t assess that they will.”

Before the meeting got underway, Stoltenberg declined to rule out that NATO could reconfigure its ballistic missile defense shield in southeastern Europe to counter Russian rockets.

After billions of dollars of U.S. investment, the NATO-controlled radar and its launchers are trained on Iran, officials say, and the alliance has repeatedly said they are not designed to target Russia, as Moscow has stated.

The United States says it will also focus on developing conventional missiles that serve as a deterrent to both Russia and China, which is not a signatory to the INF treaty and has stated its intention to push into new technologies including new cruise missiles.

“We need to build long-range precision (missiles),” Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Tuesday en route to Brussels. “Relief from the INF treaty will allow us to do that in a non-nuclear way, in a conventional way. And it also frees us up to deal with not just Russia but China.”

European allies are worried about being caught up in nuclear competition between Moscow and Washington.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Iran says it will be ready for new satellite launch in a few months

FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference after a meeting with Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran will be ready for a new satellite launch in a few months’ time after a failed attempt this week, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, ignoring U.S. and European warnings to avoid such activity.

Western officials say the missile technology used in such launches could be applied to delivering a nuclear weapon.

Iran’s bid to send a satellite, named Payam, into orbit failed on Tuesday as its launching rocket did not reach adequate speed in its third stage.

Rouhani was quoted by state media as saying, however, that Iran had “achieved great success in building satellites and launching them. That means we are on the right track.

“The remaining problems are minor, will be resolved in a few months, and we will soon be ready for a new launch,” he said.

The United States warned Iran this month against undertaking three planned rocket launches that it said would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution because they use ballistic missile technology.

France’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday condemned the abortive launch and urged Iran to cease ballistic missile tests, which Paris sees as of potential use for nuclear arms.

“The Iranian ballistic programme is a source of concern for the international community and France,” ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a statement.

“We call on Iran not to proceed with new ballistic missile tests designed to be able to carry nuclear weapons, including space launchers, and urge Iran to respect its obligations under all U.N. Security Council resolutions,” von der Muhll said.

Iran, which deems its space program a matter of national pride, has said its space vehicle launches and missile tests do not flout a U.N. resolution and will continue.

Under the U.N. resolution enshrining Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, Tehran is called upon to refrain from work on ballistic missiles suitable for carrying nuclear weapons.

Some states say this phrasing does not make it an obligatory commitment. Iran has repeatedly said the ballistic missiles it is developing are purely defensive in purpose and not designed to carry nuclear warheads.

The nuclear deal is now at risk after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from it, in part because it did not cover Iran’s ballistic missile program, and reimposed tough sanctions on Tehran.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London and Johgn Irish in Paris; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

South Korea spy agency sees signs of planned new missile test by North

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a cosmetics factory in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on October 28, 2017.

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea may be planning a new missile test, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers on Thursday, after brisk activity was spotted at its research facilities, just days before U.S. President Donald Trump visits Seoul.

Reclusive North Korea has carried out a series of nuclear and missile tests in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, but has not launched any missiles since firing one over Japan on Sept. 15, the longest such lull this year.

However a flurry of activity including the movement of vehicles has been detected at the North’s missile research facilities in Pyongyang, where the most recent missile test was conducted, pointing to another possible launch, South Korea’s Intelligence Service said in a briefing to lawmakers.

It did not say how the activity was detected.

North Korea has made no secret of its plans to perfect a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. It regularly threatens to destroy the United States and its “puppet”, South Korea.

“There is a possibility of a new missile launch given the active movement of vehicles around the missile research institute in Pyongyang. The North will constantly push for further nuclear tests going forward, and the miniaturization and diversification of warheads,” the intelligence agency said at the briefing.

The North’s nuclear testing site in the northwestern town of Punggye-ri could have been damaged by its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3, according to Kim Byung-kee, Yi Wan-young and Lee Tae-gyu, members of South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee.

The explosion triggered an aftershock within eight minutes and three additional shocks.

Japanese broadcaster TV Asahi, citing unnamed sources, said on Tuesday a tunnel at the test site collapsed after that explosion, possibly killing more than 200 people. Reuters has not been able to verify the report which North Korea on Thursday denounced as false and defamatory.

Pyongyang will likely detonate more devices as it tries to master the miniaturization of nuclear warheads to put atop missiles, the lawmakers said.

The third tunnel at the Punggye-ri complex remained ready for another test “at any time”, while construction had resumed at a fourth tunnel, making it unable to be used “for a considerable amount of time”, they added.

Trump is to visit five Asian nations in coming days for talks in which North Korea will be a major focus. The visit includes the North’s lone major ally, China, and U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, which have watched with increasing worry as Trump and North Korea have exchanged bellicose rhetoric.

 

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Editing by Nick Macfie)