The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has launched a second satellite into space, state media reported, as world powers awaited Tehran’s decision in negotiations over the country’s tattered nuclear deal.
State television identified the launch on Tuesday as taking place in its northeastern Shahroud Desert, without specifying when.
It came as Iran’s top diplomat at the months-long talks suddenly flew home late on Monday for consultations, a sign of the growing pressure on Tehran as the negotiations appear to be nearing their end on reviving the accord.
IRGC said the Noor-2 satellite reached a low orbit of 500km (310 miles) above the Earth’s surface on the Ghased satellite carrier, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. It described the Ghased as a three-phase, mixed-fuel satellite carrier.
IRGC did not immediately release photos or video of the launch. Putting the second satellite in space would be a major advance for Iran’s military.
US officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment and an American-maintained catalogue of space objects did not note a new Iranian launch this month. The launch comes days after satellite pictures suggested Iran’s civilian programme suffered another failed launch.
Noor means “light” in Persian. IRGC had launched its first Noor satellite in 2020, revealing to the world it ran its own space programme.
The head of the United States Space Command later dismissed the satellite as “a tumbling webcam in space” that would not provide Iran vital intelligence, though it showed Tehran’s ability to successfully get into orbit after a series of setbacks.
The US has alleged Iran’s satellite launches defy a United Nations Security Council resolution and has called on Tehran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran, which has for long said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) say Iran abandoned an organised military nuclear programme in 2003.
The US imposed sanctions on Iran’s civilian space agency and two research organisations in 2019, saying they were being used to advance Tehran’s ballistic missile programme.
‘No longer expert talks’
Meanwhile, IRNA described negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani’s trip home as being “within the framework of the usual consultations during the talks”. However, the top negotiator for the European Union seemed to suggest whether the talks succeeded or failed now rested with Iran.
“There are no longer ‘expert level talks.’ Nor ‘formal meetings,’” Enrique Mora wrote on Twitter, responding to comments by an Iranian analyst. “It is time, in the next few days, for political decisions to end the #ViennaTalks. The rest is noise.”
Just to clarify. There are no longer “expert level talks”. Nor “formal meetings”. It is time, in the next few days, for political decisions to end the #ViennaTalks . The rest is noise. https://t.co/InuxzlBrCn
— Enrique Mora (@enriquemora_) March 7, 2022
Mora’s comments mirror those of British and French negotiators at the Vienna talks, which have been working to find a way to get the US back into the accord it unilaterally abandoned in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump.
It also hopes to get Iran to again agree to measures that drastically scaled back its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
They also appear to push back against a constant Iranian refrain in the last weeks of talks that tried to blame any delay on the US, which has not been in the room for talks since Trump’s withdrawal.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said he believed “we’re close” on reaching a deal, though there were “a couple of very challenging remaining issues”.
The latest wrinkle, however, is a demand on Saturday from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Blinken offer written guarantees over Moscow’s ability to continue trade with Iran as it faces sanctions over its war on Ukraine.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian spoke on Monday by phone with Lavrov, with the sanctions threat apparently discussed, according to a statement from his office.
“We are against war and imposition of sanctions, and it is clear that cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and any country, including Russia, should not be affected by the atmosphere of sanctions,” Amirabdollahian said.
The 2015 nuclear deal saw Iran put advanced centrifuges into storage under the watch of IAEA while keeping its enrichment at 3.67 percent purity and its stockpile at only 300kg (661 pounds) of uranium.
As of February 19, the IAEA says Iran’s stockpile of all enriched uranium was nearly 3,200kg (7,055 pounds). Some of it has been enriched up to 60 percent purity – a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent.