Sunday, February 25, 2007

Iran fires 'first space rocket'

Feb 25 2007 BBC report: Iran fires 'first space rocket':
Iranian media say the country has successfully launched its first rocket capable of reaching space.

But officials said it was just for research and would not go into orbit.

Experts say if Iran has fired a rocket into space it would cause alarm abroad as it would mean scientists had crossed important technological barriers.

Iran has made little secret of its desire to become a space power and already has a satellite in orbit launched by the Russians.

The latest launch - if confirmed - comes at a time of mounting tension between Tehran and the West over Iran's controversial nuclear programme.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany are due to meet on Monday to discuss the possibility of more sanctions over the nuclear issue.

On Sunday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered another defiant speech insisting there is no going back on Iran's nuclear programme.

In a speech in Tehran, he likened his country's nuclear programme to a train with no brakes and no reverse gear.

One of his deputy foreign ministers, Manouchehr Mohammadi, said they had prepared themselves for any situation arising from the issue, even for war.

Meanwhile, foreign ministers from seven Muslim states meeting in Pakistan have called for a diplomatic solution to the "dangerous" stand-off.

"It is vital that all issues must be resolved through diplomacy and there must be no resort to use of force," said a statement issued after talks involving ministers from Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Missile technology

Iranian TV broke the news of the reported test saying: "The first space rocket has been successfully launched into space."

It quoted the head of Iran's aerospace research centre, Mohsen Bahrami, as saying that "the rocket was carrying material intended for research created by the ministries of science and defence".

However, Ali Akbar Golrou, executive director of the same facility, was later quoted by Fars news agency as saying the craft launched by was a sub-orbital rocket for scientific research.

"What was announced by the head of the research centre was the news of launching this sounding rocket," Mr Golrou said.

It would not remain in orbit but could rise to about 150km (94 miles) before a parachute-assisted descent to Earth.

No pictures of the reported launch have been shown on Iranian state TV, and no Western countries have confirmed tracking any such test-firing.

Some Western diplomats suspect Iran may have backtracked on the announcement when it realised what negative publicity this would bring at a sensitive time, says the BBC's Frances Harrison in Tehran.

The reports come a day after Iran's Defence Minister spoke of plans to build a satellite launcher and join the space club. Also, an Iranian official quoted in Aviation Week earlier this month said Iran would soon test a new satellite launcher.

Britain's former ambassador to Iran, Sir Richard Dalton, told the BBC that, if confirmed, such a launch could destabilise the Middle East.

"It is a matter of concern," he said. "Iran's potential nuclear military programme, combined with an advanced missile capability, would destabilise the region, and of course if there were a bomb that could be placed on the end of this missile, it would in breach of Iran's obligations under the non-proliferation treaty."

Military experts believe that if Iran has sent a rocket into space it means scientists have mastered the technology needed to cross the atmospheric barrier.

In practice, they say, that means there is no technological block to Iran building longer range missiles now, something that will be of great international concern.

In 2005, Iran's Russian-made satellite was put into orbit by a Russian rocket.

But shortly afterwards Iranian military officials said they were preparing a satellite launch vehicle of their own, and last month they announced they were ready to test it soon.

Friday, February 23, 2007

U.N. Watchdog Links Iran's Nuclear Program to Libya

Copy of Newsmax report - U.N. Watchdog Links Iran's Nuclear Program to Libya - by Stewart Stogel, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007:
UNITED NATIONS -- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nation's atomic watchdog group, raises new questions about Iran's controversial nuclear research program and whether that rogue country has been receiving outside assistance with uranium enrichment.

A report by the IAEA, released Thursday, points fingers at Libya as a supporting player in Iran's nuclear proliferation. The agency suggests that uranium particle contamination of the Iranian centrifuges is similar to that found in Libya more than two years ago.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council, which was obtained by NewsMax, the IAEA states Tehran has ignored previous Council demands that Iran suspend its nuclear fuel enrichment activities.

In December, the Security Council threatened a series of sanctions if the Islamic Republic did not comply with a suspension within 60 days.

While Iran contends its uranium enrichment is for peaceful civilian purposes, the United States contends that such enrichment is key to building an atomic bomb and wants it stopped.

As such, a deadlock has developed, with no clear solution in site.

Meanwhile, Iran, with Russian assistance, is nearing completion of one of the world's largest light-water nuclear power stations near the Persian Gulf port of Bushehr. More than two years behind schedule, the multi-billion dollar complex is expected to be fully functional this summer.

In the IAEA report, the issue of Iran's cascade of centrifuges, which provides the heart of its controversial uranium enrichment activities, raises potentially troubling issues for the Security Council.

"Particle contamination similar to that in Iran was also detected in samples taken from centrifuge equipment and components found in Libya" more than two years ago, reads the report.

There have been previous reports linking the two rogue programs.

The IAEA speculates that the uranium fuel likely originated from the same country, but refused to name it.

More than two years ago, Libya voluntarily dismantled its own secret nuclear program and turned over numerous documents to the IAEA.

Unlike Iran, Libya eventually confessed that its nuclear activities were in fact militarily oriented.

Now it seems, the Iranians and Libyans may not only have been cooperating between themselves, but with a third country - most likely, Pakistan.

Pakistan's chief nuclear scientist, Dr A.Q. Khan, has publicly admitted to illegally trafficking in key nuclear technologies and has been under defacto house arrest in the country since February 2004.

Published reports in Pakistan and Washington alleged that several of Dr. Khan's best customers included North Korea, Iran and Libya.

The latest IAEA report removes more of that uncertainty.

Last June, the Pakistani Senate officially rejected a U.S. House of Representatives request that Khan be allowed to travel to Washington to more fully testify on his past nuclear activities.