The U.S. imposes new sanctions against Iran’s space agency for involvement in nuclear weapons development

The United States has imposed sanctions over Iran’s space agency — as well as two other research organizations — in violation of the agreement over nuclear weapons production.

The United States Department of Treasury says that the Iran Space Agency, Iran Space Research Center, and the Astronautics Research Institute are being used to advance Tehran’s ballistic missile program, according to a statement on its website.

“The United States will not allow Iran to use its space launch program as [a] cover to advance its ballistic missile programs,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

Pompeo went to elaborate that Iran’s August 29 attempt to test a space launch vehicle underscored “the urgency of the threat.”

Pompeo was referring to the Iranian rocket explosion on its launch pad at Imam Khomeini Space Center in northern Iran before its scheduled launch last Thursday. The explosion followed Iran’s two failed attempts to launch the Payam and Doosti satellites in January and February.

According to the State Department, the Iran Space Agency develops satellites and launch vehicle technology, and works with the Iran Space Research Center on day-to-day tasks, as well as, research and development.

However, the two have also been reported to have been working with the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, a sanctioned liquid-propellant ballistic missile organization.

Meanwhile, the Astronautics Research Institute has managed the space vehicle launch project, which placed them under the same sanctions by the U.S.

Under the orders, any assets that these entities have in the United States are blocked, and U.S. citizens are barred from interacting with Iran’s space program. Additionally, the new sanctions also serve as a warning against providing intellectual assistance to Iran.

“These designations should serve as a warning to the international scientific community that collaborating with Iran’s space program could contribute to Tehran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon delivery system,” Pompeo said.

Notably, the newly declared sanctions are motivated by the years-long U.S. effort of preventing Iran from developing resources that would lead to the development of nuclear weapons. The U.S. fears long-range ballistic technology that Iran plans on using to send satellites into orbit, which also could be used to launch nuclear warheads.

Iranian rocket called ‘Pishgam’ or ‘Pioneer’ is seen ahead of a space launch at an undisclosed location in Iran.
Source: Iranian Student News Agency

The deal that the U.S. is alleging Iran to have violated is the 2015 Tehran nuclear deal, which Iran has pledged to follow in return of economic relief from the seven countries involved in the agreement.

The agreement, brokered by the Obama administration, sought to curb Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons.

Specifically, the deal included Iran to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium by 98 percent — a critical component for making nuclear weapons and in nuclear power stations — and reduce production to only 3.67 percent.

Iran also agreed to reduce its gas centrifuges, which is used to separate different types of uranium into manufacturable nuclear weapons or generators.

In addition, they were barred from building heavy-water faculties — a type of nuclear reactor which uses heavy water (deuterium oxide) as a coolant to maintain temperatures in the reactor.

Lastly, the International Atomic Energy Agency was granted regular access to all Iranian nuclear facilities to ensure Iran maintains the deal.

However, President Donald Trump in May of 2018 withdrew the U.S. from the deal, branding it “horrible” and “one-sided,” and that it did not go far enough in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Consequently, the U.S.’ withdrawal caused economic failure for Iran.

As a counter-action, Iran has pledged to breach the agreement and is threatening to increase its uranium enrichment unless the remaining signatories to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the European Union — return the economic relief it says it is owed.

In regards to the allegation regarding the involvement of its space agency and the two other organizations, they continue to deny that any nuclear weapon development is taking place.

Iran says its space program is aimed at building rockets to launch telecommunications satellites. Iran has fired two such satellites into orbit since 2013. But, three other attempts this year have failed, including Thursday’s explosion.

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