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Russia to launch Iranian satellite amid Ukraine war concerns

View of the Baikonur cosmodrome launch pad. Russia is due to launch an Iranian satellite from the Kazakhstan spaceport
— Almaty (Kazakhstan) (AFP)

Russia is scheduled to launch an Iranian satellite into orbit on Tuesday, but Tehran brushed off fears that Moscow might use it in the war against Ukraine.

Iran's "Khayyam" satellite is scheduled to take off from the Moscow-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 0552 GMT, three weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin met Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran.

Iran has sought to deflect suspicions that Moscow could use Khayyam to improve its surveillance of military targets in Ukraine.

Last week, US daily 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 efforts before allowing Iran to take control.

But the Iranian Space Agency said on Sunday that the Islamic republic would control the Khayyam satellite "from day one."

"No third country is able to access the information" sent by the satellite due to its "encrypted algorithm," it said.

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

Khayyam is being taken into orbit by a Soyuz-2.1b rocket, Russia's space agency Roscosmos said last week.

As Moscow's international isolation grows under the weight of Western sanctions over Ukraine, Putin is seeking to pivot Russia towards the Middle East, Asia and Africa and find new clients for the country's embattled space programme.

- 'Long-term cooperation' -

Khayyam, apparently named after the 11th-century Persian polymath Omar Khayyam, will not be 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 is currently negotiating with world powers, including Moscow, to salvage a 2015 deal aimed at reining in Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The United States -- which quit the landmark Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA under then-president Donald Trump in 2018 -- has accused Iran of effectively supporting Russia's war against Ukraine while adopting a "veil of neutrality".

During his meeting with Putin last month, Iran's Khamenei called for "long-term cooperation" with Russia, and Tehran has refused to join international condemnation of Moscow's invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.

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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