Iran Unveils New Satellite Capabilities

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". . .the test-firing could raise fresh alarms about Iran's weapons development"

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 it's weapons program.

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

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 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.

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 IAEA 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.

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.

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