WASHINGTON/DUBAI (REUTERS/AP) - US President Donald Trump said on Friday (Aug 30) that the United States was not involved with a failed Iranian rocket launch, and he wished Teheran luck at finding out what went wrong.
"The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran," Trump said on Twitter. “I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.”
A rising politician in Iran’s Shiite theocracy, responded to Trump in his tweet early Saturday, publishing an image Saturday of a satellite after the apparent rocket explosion at the space centre meant to launch it. The American leader had shared online what appeared to be a surveillance photo of the aftermath.
The tweet from Iran’s Information and Communications Technology Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, including a selfie of him in front of the Nahid-1, comes as Teheran has yet to acknowledge Thursday’s explosion at the Imam Khomeini Space Center.
“Me & Nahid I right now, Good Morning Donald Trump!” he wrote in English.
Later, Jahromi accompanied local journalists at the Teheran-based space research centre, showing them the satellite.
“I have no idea about the Semnan space centre and the defence minister, who is in charge, should make a comment on this,” Jahromi said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. He did not elaborate.
The Semnan launching centre is in a province neighboring the capital city, Tehran.
While specifics about the incident remain unclear, the explosion marked the third failure involving a launch at the centre, which has raised suspicions of sabotage in Iran’s space programme. A US official has said Iran suffered a satellite launch failure.
The US has criticised the initiative as a way for Teheran to advance its ballistic missiles — warning Iran against rocket launches, fearful the technology used to put satellites into orbit could enable Teheran to develop the ballistic missile capability needed to launch nuclear warheads.
Trump directly acknowledged those suspicions in his tweet Friday and denied any US involvement.
Teheran denies the US accusation that such activity is a cover for ballistic missile development.
Commercially available satellite images by Planet Labs Inc. and Maxar Technologies showed a black plume of smoke rising above a launch pad Thursday, with what appeared to be the charred remains of a rocket and its launch stand. In previous days, satellite images had shown officials there repainted the launch pad blue.
The photo released Friday by Trump appeared to be a once-classified surveillance photo from American intelligence agencies. Analysts said the black rectangle in the photo’s upper-left-hand corner likely covered up the photo’s classification. Trump as president can declassify material.
The image showed damaged vehicles around the launch pad, as well as damage done to the rocket’s launcher. It also clearly showed a large phrase written in Farsi on the pad: “National Product, National Power.”
Jahromi told The Associated Press in July that Teheran planned three satellite launches this year, two for satellites that do remote-sensing work and another that handles communications. The Nahid-1 is reportedly the telecommunication satellite.
Nahid in Farsi means “Venus.” The satellite, which had Iran’s first foldable solar panels, was supposed to be in a low orbit around the Earth for some two-and-a-half months. The semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Jahromi on Aug. 13 as saying that the Nahid-1 was ready to be delivered to Iran’s Defence Ministry, signaling a launch date for the satellite likely loomed.
Iran’s National Week of Government, during which Teheran often inaugurates new projects, began Aug 24. The apparent failed rocket launch comes after two failed satellite launches of the Payam and Doosti in January and February.
A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in February also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. The US alleges such satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution calling on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. Teheran also says it hasn’t violated the UN resolution as it only “called upon” Teheran not to conduct such tests. The tests have taken on new importance to the US amid the maximalist approach to Iran taken by President Donald Trump’s administration.
Tensions have been high between the countries since Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal over a year ago and imposed sanctions, including on Iran’s oil industry. Iran recently has begun to break the accord itself while trying to push Europe to help it sell oil abroad.
The Trump administration has ratcheted up economic pressure on Iran with a series of economic sanctions to try to force it to renegotiate a pact reached with world powers in 2015 limiting its nuclear programme.
Trump has offered to hold talks with Iran but Teheran says first it must get relief from US sanctions.