Washington has imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Iran’s nascent space program, arguing a recent botched Iranian satellite launch is evidence that the country is carrying out secret work on ballistic missiles.
The new penalties forbid American citizens from business dealings with Iranian entities affiliated with the country’s space initiative, including the Iran Space Agency itself and two of its research institutes, the Iran Space Research Center and the Astronautics Research Institute.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the new penalties in a statement on Tuesday, describing the Iranian space initiative as a “threat” to the US and saying that “the United States will not allow Iran to use its space launch program as cover to advance its ballistic missile programs.”
The decision comes in the wake of Tehran’s failed satellite launch last week, which Pompeo claimed only “underscores the urgency of the threat.”
A second State Department missive further explained the decision, noting that “Space launch vehicle (SLV) technologies, such as those developed by Iran’s space program, are virtually identical and interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles,” although Tehran insists its space program has no military dimension.
An Iranian satellite launch test at the Imam Khomeini Space Center ended in disaster last Thursday when a rocket exploded on the launchpad, which Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said was caused by a “technical error.” The satellite itself was not damaged, however, as it had not been loaded, on what Tehran says was a test launch.
Even US President Donald Trump weighed in, tweeting that the US had no involvement in the explosion, dispelling speculation about American sabotage.
The new American sanctions join a raft of penalties previously imposed on Iran’s economy, including crippling energy sanctions intended to reduce the country’s oil exports to zero, part of a “maximum pressure campaign” to coerce Tehran into renegotiating elements of a nuclear deal signed with world powers in 2015, which Washington abrogated unilaterally last year.
Iran maintains that it does not seek to develop a nuclear weapon, which Trump has cited time and again as his primary concern.
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