The US just slapped sanctions on Iran’s space agencies

The country’s civilian space agency and two research organisations are accused of advancing ballistic missile programme.

A view of the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) in Mahdasht, about 60 km (37 miles) west of Tehran February 29, 2012. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
Iran's space agency, located about 60km west of Tehran in Mahdasht, has according to the US State Department done work with a sanctioned liquid propellant ballistic missile organisation [File: Raheb Homavandi/Reuters]

The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on Iran‘s civilian space agency and two research organisations, saying they were being used to advance Tehran’s ballistic missile programme.

Sanctions imposed by the US Department of the Treasury targeted the Iran Space Agency, Iran Space Research Center and the Astronautics Research Institute, according to a statement on its website.

“The United States will not allow Iran to use its space launch program as cover to advance its ballistic missile programs,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

He said Iran’s August 29 attempt to test a space launch vehicle underscored “the urgency of the threat”.

An Iranian rocket exploded on its launch pad at Imam Khomeini Space Center in northern Iran before its scheduled launch last Thursday. The explosion followed Iran’s failed attempt to launch a satellite in January.

The sanctions, part of a years-long US pressure campaign to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, are the first imposed on Iran’s space agencies, according to the US Department of State. The US fears long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also be used to launch nuclear warheads.

The Iran Space Agency develops satellites and launch vehicle technology, and works with the Iran Space Research Center on day-to-day tasks as well as research and development, according to the State Department. The two have also worked with a sanctioned liquid-propellant ballistic missile organisation, Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, the State Department said.

The Astronautics Research Institute has managed the space vehicle launch project, according to the department.

Tehran denies its space activity is a cover for developing weapon launches.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump posted on Twitter a photo of what appeared to be the site of the failed Iranian satellite launch.

“These designations should serve as a warning to the international scientific community that collaborating with Iran’s space programme could contribute to Tehran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon delivery system,” Pompeo said.

Trump in May of 2018 withdrew the US from a 2015 multinational nuclear deal with Iran, saying it did not go far enough in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Source: Reuters