TEHRAN, Feb 4 – Iran insisted on Wednesday that the launch of its first home-built satellite has no military aims, despite deep concerns in arch-foe Israel and the West about the development.
"This is a scientific and technical achievement and has no military aims," foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi told reporters.
Iran’s launch of the Omid (Hope) satellite carried by the home-built Safir-2 rocket on Monday has set alarm bells ringing among Western powers already at loggerheads with Tehran over its nuclear programme.
But hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the move signalled Tehran’s technological achievement and was an attempt to break the Western world’s monopoly on science.
"We should try to break this scientific monopoly," he said at a seminar on science in Tehran.
"Today science and other technologies are monopolised. We should try to get science out of the control of the arrogant and the selfish," he said, adding the satellite launch had raised Iran’s global status "one hundred steps".
The West suspects Iran of secretly trying to build an atomic bomb and fears the technology used to launch a space rocket could be diverted into developing long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy purposes and that it has the right to technology already in the hands of many other nations, including arch foe the United States.
The West and Israel reacted strongly to the satellite launch, which came ahead of a meeting in Germany on Wednesday of senior diplomats from six world powers on the nuclear standoff.
But Ghashghavi brushed off the concerns, saying Tehran believed in "respecting international rules about non-militarised space."
He also said it was Iran’s "national right to pursue peaceful nuclear activities."
"This is not something that we claim, but it is a reality and the United States and members of the five plus one group must also be realistic about it," he said referring to the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany meeting on Wednesday.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs expressed dismay with Iran following overtures by US President Barrack Obama, who said last month he was willing to extend the hand of diplomacy to Tehran after 30 years of severed ties.
"This action does not convince us that Iran is acting responsibly to advance stability or security in the region," Gibbs said.
"All of this continues to underscore that our administration will use all elements of our national power to deal with Iran and to help it be a responsible member of the international community."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also warned Iran it faced consequences if it failed to respect demands that it halt its uranium enrichment, the process that makes fuel for nuclear plants but can be diverted to make the core of an atomic bomb.
"President Obama has signalled his intention to support tough and direct diplomacy with Iran, but if Iran does not comply with the UNSC and the IAEA mandate, there must be consequences," Clinton said.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Olmert called for tougher sanctions against Tehran.
"The Iranian satellite launch constitutes a technological success for Tehran" which is boosting "its military potential in the intelligence sector," he said in a statement.
In London, British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell voiced "serious concerns" over the launch.
French foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said the technology for launching satellites was "very similar to ballistic (missile) capabilities.
"We can’t but link this to the very serious concerns about the development of military nuclear capability."