TEHRAN: Iran said it put its first military satellite into orbit Wednesday, making it an emerging “world power”, as the US issued new threats amid rising naval tensions in the Gulf.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps hailed the launch as a milestone, in the face of intense US pressure and Washington’s allegations that the space programme is a cover to develop ballistic missiles.
“Today, we are looking at the Earth from the sky, and it is the beginning of the formation of a world power,” the elite unit’s commander Hossein Salami said, quoted by Fars news agency.
Tensions between the United States and Iran escalated again last week with Washington accusing its arch-foe of harassing its ships in the Gulf.
US President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to say he had “instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea”.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the satellite launch proved US charges that Iran’s space programme was for military rather than commercial purposes.
“I think Iran needs to be held accountable for what they’ve done,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington.
Iran maintains it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, and says its aerospace activities are peaceful and comply with a UN Security Council resolution.
Sepahnews, the Revolutionary Guards’ website, said the satellite dubbed the Nour – meaning “light” in Persian – had been launched from the Markazi desert, a vast expanse in Iran’s central plateau.
The satellite “orbited the Earth at 425 kilometres (264 miles)” above sea level, said Sepahnews.
Iran’s regional rival Israel said it “strongly condemns” what it called Iran’s “attempt” to launch a military satellite.
It urged more international sanctions over what it called “a facade” for Iran’s continued development of advanced missiles, including ones that could deliver a nuclear warhead.
David Norquist, the US deputy defence secretary, said the Iranian launch “went a very long way”.
The range “means it has the ability once again to threaten their neighbours, our allies. And we want to make sure they can never threaten the United States,” he told reporters.