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Iran scoffs at claims Russia-launched satellite for 'spying'

Iran says the satellite will monitor borders, enhance agricultural productivity and monitor water resources and natural disasters
— Tehran (AFP)

Iran dismissed as "childish" Wednesday claims by the United States that an Iranian satellite launched by Russia is intended for spying.

The satellite, called Khayyam, was launched into space on a Soyuz-2.1b rocket from the Russian-controlled Baikonur Cosmodrome in neighbouring Kazakhstan on Tuesday.

Responding to the launch, Washington said Russia's growing cooperation with Iran should be viewed as a "profound threat".

"We are aware of reports that Russia launched a satellite with significant spying capabilities on Iran's behalf," a US State Department spokesperson said.

The head of Iran's Space Agency, Hassan Salarieh, told reporters Wednesday that the spying allegation was "basically childish".

"Sometimes, some comments are made to incite tensions; saying that we want to spy with the Khayyam satellite... is basically childish," he said.

"The Khayyam satellite is entirely designed and built to meet the needs of the country in crisis and urban management, natural resources, mines, agriculture and so on."

Ahead of the launch, there was speculation that Russia might borrow Iran's satellite temporarily to boost its surveillance of military targets in Ukraine.

Last week, The Washington Post quoted anonymous Western intelligence officials as saying that Russia "plans to use the satellite for several months or longer" to assist its war effort before allowing Iran to take control.

Iran's space agency stressed on Sunday that it would control the satellite "from day one" in an apparent reaction to the Post's report.

The purpose of Khayyam is to "monitor the country's borders", enhance agricultural productivity and monitor water resources and natural disasters, according to the space agency.

Khayyam is not the first Iranian satellite that Russia has put into space.

In 2005, Iran's Sina-1 satellite was deployed from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

Iran insists its space programme is for civilian and defence purposes only, and does not breach the 2015 nuclear deal, or any other international agreement.

Western governments worry that satellite launch systems incorporate technologies interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, something Iran has always denied wanting to build.

Iran successfully put its first military satellite into orbit in April 2020, drawing a sharp rebuke from the United States.

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