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February 3, 2009

Revolutionary Flare

Below is a special guest post from Jill Marie Parillo from Physicians for Social Responsibility.  Jill is the Deputy Director for Security Programs
and Director of US-Iranian Scientific Exchange Initiative at PSR.

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On the 30th anniversary of the revolution yesterday, Iran potentially launched its first satellite “Omid” (Hope) into space.  Iranian officials claimed that the missile, developed in November 2008, was for deterrence purposes.  President Ahmadinejad said yesterday’s rocket was launched in peace and that science will promote “friendship, brotherhood and justice” between Iran and the world.  Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki said the satellite would be used to collect “environmental data.”
In any case, if proven successful (it is not yet), this rocket launch will prove Iran’s 2,000 kilometer missile capability, last tested with the launch of its Sajjil (long-range surface-to-surface missiles) in November 2008.

From Iran, a missile of 2000 kilometers would reach:
Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Nepal, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
What Response from the P5+1?
It is highly unlikely that Russia will back more sanctions at the UN Security Council because of this test. Iran crossed several Western red lines in the last two years as it made advancements to its nuclear enrichment capability.  In 2006, all five permanent members of the Security Council agreed to meet Iran’s nuclear advancements with a UN Security Council resolution (#1737) which implemented sanctions on Iran. By 2007, Russia stopped agreeing to U.S. pressure for stronger UN resolutions.
In 2007 (through resolution #1747), the United States wanted Russia to back a sanctions resolution under Chapter VII, Article 42 of the UN Charter, rather than under Article 41.  Russia refused. Russia also refused in 2008 when the Security Council passed resolution 1803 (see articles of Chapter VII for why this really matters).
It is interesting to note that Russia is Iran’s main trading partner in terms of space technology.  It’s doubtful this launch will stop Russia from exchanging such technology with Iran.
What Response from the Obama Administration?
I do not think this will push the Administration to take a harder line on Iran, although  I cannot say for certain, because I do not know what Obama’s Iran policy will look like in the short- or long-term. Today’s response to the launch should give us a few hints.
update: It has been confirmed by numerous sources, including NORAD, that the launch was a success.

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