Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Iran Enters Age of Model Rocketry

For anyone who, as a kid, enjoyed launching Estes model rockets, the latest show from Iran looks like fun. Iranian rocketeers sent a 10-foot missile carrying a rat, two turtles and a can of worms into the sky. However, no one seems to know anything about its payload following the launch. The Iranians claim it was shot into orbit. But that is comical. A 10-foot solid-fuel rocket cannot put a payload into orbit. In fact, it is unlikely the rocket is capable of sending its capsule out of Iran. Forget leaving the atmosphere.

But that's how it goes for muslims. Like Baghdad Bob during the US invasion of Iraq. He manned his radio broadcasting booth, ranting as though the War of the Worlds was underway and Iraq was destroying the invaders. His performance was inspired. A Wizard of Oz showing. But there was nothing unusual about it in the muslim world. That same form of fictional reporting occurs in Palestinian regions of the West Bank every day. Muslims seem to believe every word they hear, that they are under attack by Israeli forces even when they can look out their windows and see a tranquil landscape.

Iran Unveils New Satellite Capabilities on Eve of Revolution

DUBAI—Iran test-fired a new satellite rocket and unveiled a series of what it said were home-grown advances in a space program that has worried Western officials because of possible cross-over applications in the country's weapons program.

In addition to the test-firing, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled on Wednesday three new telecommunications satellites and a new satellite-carrier engine, according to state media.

The test firing comes as the Islamic Republic celebrates its 31st anniversary. Commemorations began earlier this week and culminate on Feb. 11, the day in 1979 that the shah's forces capitulated during the Iranian revolution. During the same commemoration period last year, Iran launched its first domestically made and propelled satellite.

Tehran has long said its space program, like its nuclear program, is aimed at peaceful purposes. Wednesday's rocket carried a capsule of living organisms—a rat, two turtles and worms—into space for experimentation, the state-run English-language Press TV reported.

Iranian claims of technological advances, especially in weapons development, are often viewed skeptically by outside analysts.

Still, the test-firing could raise fresh alarms about Iran's weapons development. Many of the same technologies used in satellite development can be applicable to missile-delivery systems.

The satellite announcement comes a day after Mr. Ahmadinejad surprised many Western observers by suggesting in a televised interview late Tuesday that Tehran no longer objected to a long-stalled nuclear-fuel deal at the heart of current efforts by Western capitals to rein in the country's nuclear ambitions.

Iran Is Ready for Nuclear Deal, Leader Says

Washington is pushing for fresh economic sanctions against Iran after being frustrated by Tehran's response to the draft deal, hammered out between Iran, Western powers and the International Atomic Energy Agency last year. The deal calls for Iran to ship out the bulk of its low-enriched uranium, to be refined overseas and then returned for use in a medical-research reactor. Western officials see the deal as a way of delaying any Iranian effort to develop a nuclear weapon.

After Iranian negotiators agreed to the proposed deal, several Tehran officials spent months criticizing it, and appeared to rule out the deal in its current form in December. But Mr. Ahmadinejad's comments late Tuesday night suggested Tehran's position has changed once again. U.S. officials remain wary, saying that if Iran has agreed to the deal, Tehran should officially notify the IAEA.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's satellite announcement comes after U.S. defense officials disclosed this weekend American efforts to bolster defensive capabilities among its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. It also comes as opposition protesters gird for planned demonstrations on Feb. 11.

Opposition leaders have used state-sanctioned holidays as cover for their antigovernment protests, which first erupted after disputed June 12 presidential elections.

Both sides—the government and the opposition—have hardened their rhetoric recently ahead of Feb. 11. The government has vowed a harsh crackdown and swift justice to demonstrators who turn out. Similar threats, however, failed to deter large-scale protests on Dec. 27, a holy day in Shiite Islam, which saw some of the worst violence since the summer.

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