U.S. Hits Iran With Sanctions After ‘Provocative’ Space Launch

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The Simorgh rocket. Photo: Iranian Minstry of Defence

The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday hit Iran with new sanctions for its Thursday launch of a satellite-carrying rocket. The AP referred to the launch as a “step forward for the Islamic Republic’s young space program,” but the Trump administration sees it as a “provocative behavior.”

“Space launch vehicles use technologies that are closely related to those of an intercontinental ballistic missile and this launch represents a threatening step by Iran,” the Treasury Department said in a statement Friday. Though the newly recertified deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program doesn’t explicitly bar the development of ballistic missiles, the U.S. considers it a violation of the “spirit” of the deal, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday.

The new sanctions are aimed at six offshoots of Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, the firm in charge of Iran’s ballistic missile program, and prohibit American entities from carrying out transactions with those subsidiaries.

“These sanctions target key entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, and underscore the United States’ deep concerns with Iran’s continued development and testing of ballistic missiles and other provocative behavior,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.

According to Iranian state television, the rocket launched into space Thursday can carry a 550-pound payload. Dubbed the Simorgh, or “Phoenix,” the rocket was first revealed in 2010. At the time, experts said that while the rocket itself was not able to fly far enough to be considered an intercontinental ballistic missile, it “could be Iran’s road to an ICBM.”

The U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center echoed that in a report issued just last month. “Progress in Iran’s space program could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles (SLV) use inherently similar technologies,” the report said.

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to the new sanctions by accusing the U.S. of violating the “the letter and spirit” of the nuclear deal. He also denied that Iran is working toward an ICBM. “Iran is not and will not be developing nuclear weapons; so by definition cannot develop anything designed to be capable of delivering them,” he tweeted.

U.S. Sanctions Iran After ‘Provocative’ Space Launch