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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

U.S. says Iran launch shows it 'could develop long-range ballistic missile'

WASHINGTON — The United States has confirmed Iran's claim that it carried out a successful satellite launch.   

Officials said Iran sent an unspecified experimental satellite into low-earth orbit on late Feb. 2 or early Feb. 3. They said the launch marked a major achievement for Iran's space and missile program as well as Teheran's ability to fire a one-ton payload that could reach much of Europe.

"The development of a space launch vehicle establishes the technical basis from which Iran could develop long-range ballistic missile systems," acting State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.

Wood said the Iranian satellite launch would be discussed by international powers in Frankfurt, Germany on Feb. 4. Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States were scheduled to review Iran's nuclear program, including uranium enrichment.

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"This is a cause for concern not just here in the United States but in Europe, throughout the Middle East and I believe throughout the greater world," Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

Officials said the United States was consulting with other NATO allies to acquire details of Iran's satellite. They said Israel has also confirmed the Iranian satellite launch.

At this point, officials said, the Iranian Omid, or Hope, satellite appeared to be a platform of about 25 kilograms. The Safir-2 space launch vehicle, they said, appeared to be designed by North Korea.

"One thing is clear," an official said, "the Iranians have demonstrated an ability to fire missiles that could travel at least 2,500 kilometers and probably more. This means that the entire Middle East and much of Europe is in their range."

In 2008, the United States, under the Bush administration, intensified sanctions on Iran's missile and nuclear program. Officials said they did not know whether President Barack Obama, who has pledged reconciliation with Iran, would continue this policy.

"Efforts to develop missile delivery capability, efforts that continue on an illicit nuclear program, or threats that Iran makes toward Israel, and its sponsorship of terror are of acute concern to this administration," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

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