Iran launched its first space rocket and the news dominated the coverage in the local media. Iran also inaugurated its first space control center and announced that it will launch its own satellite into space this year. Iran would join only ten other countries capable of putting satellites into earth orbits. US called the development “troubling.” Iran vowed to go ahead with its space program. On nuclear front, US changed its tone and said Iran is capable to develop a nuclear weapon by late 2009. Iran said developing uranium enrichment capabilities is among its rights and it would not halt its nuclear program. On domestic front, the government disqualified more reformist and moderate candidates to stand for elections in the upcoming parliamentary contest. A spokesman for the reformist camp said the government wants to deprive the reformists of contesting the elections.
Iran Space Program
· Iran launches space rocket; the rocket was codenamed “Kavoushgar-1” [Explorer-1]; the launch was broadcast live on IRIB, Iran’s state-run TV network; ISNA reported the rocket was launched from a desert location near Semnan in central Iran; Iran also inaugurated its first space center; the space center contains the launch pad for space rockets and also house an underground control station with tracking, control and communication equipment.
· Iran announced it will launch its first homemade research satellite this year; the satellite is named “Omid” [Hope]; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the test firing of Kavoushgar-1 was an essential step into launching the satellite aboard a similar rocket; Omid is to be set at a low orbit.
· In Tehran, President Ahmadinejad declared: ”We witness that Iran has taken its first step in space very firmly, precisely and with awareness”; the influential conservative daily Keyhan called the rocket “Iran's first ambassador in space.”
Iran Nuclear Program
· Iran’s president said he was withdrawing proposal on uranium enrichment; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he is withdrawing a proposal made in 2005 for an international consortium to enrich uranium; “This proposal is no longer on the table,” said Ahmadinejad; he added that Iran’s “right to enrich uranium” must be preserved.
· US changed its tone on Iran’s nuclear program; Iran may have nuclear weapon by 2009, said US director of national intelligence; John Michael McConnell added Iran will be capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon by late 2009; McConnell reported to US Congress that US remains “concerned” about Iran’s intentions; he added US intelligence community “assess with moderate-to-high confidence” that Iran has kept its options open to develop nuclear weapons.
· New sanctions to prompt Iran to freeze uranium enrichment, said Russia; Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said a new round of international sanctions on Iran should encourage it to freeze uranium enrichment; he added that the third round of UN sanctions on Iran would send a “serious political signal” to Iran to suspend its enrichment program.
· French Defense Minister Herve Morin cast doubt on reports that Iran had halted its suspected nuclear weapons program; Morin said in Washington that “information from a number of intelligence services” indicate Iran is “continuing to develop” its nuclear weapon program; US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) had said Iran halted its nuclear weapon program in 2003.
Iran Military Developments
· Iran designed radar-evading fighter jets; Iran's Air Force Commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Miqani said Iran has started production of the new generation of fighter jets equipped with radar-evading systems; Iran is now self-sufficient in manufacturing air defense and radar systems required for its defense, Miqani added.
· IRGC to use new attack helicopters; Iran's Revolutionary Guards announced they begin using the first Iranian-made helicopters capable of carrying missiles and equipped with a high-tech radar system; IRGC also announced it will produce unmanned drones capable of flying for up to 15 hours, at altitude of 2,000 meters.
· US calls Iran space rocket launch “unfortunate”; White House said Iran's rocket launch would “further isolate Tehran from the international community”; “It is unfortunate Iran continues to test ballistic missiles,” said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
· Iran brushes off US rocket rebuke; Iran said such “scientific achievements” should not worry anyone; Iran fired the rocket to mark the opening of its first space center; Iran is expected this year to put an Iranian-built satellite into space for the first time.
· US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described rocket launch as “another troubling development”; McCormack said Iran could use the same technology to fire ballistic missiles.
Leading Domestic Storylines
· More reformist candidates were disqualified to stand for parliamentary elections; Safdar Hosseini, chairman of the elections committee of Reformists Coalition, said it the government wants to “deprive the reformists of contesting the elections.”
· Iranian internet users reached 18 million; Saeed Mahdioon, director of Iranian Information Technology Center (ITC) said 27 percent of the country's population is connected to Internet.
Leading Regional Storylines
· Iran hits out at France over military base; Iran criticized France for setting up a military base in the Persian Gulf; Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said French permanent presence in Persian Gulf “would harm peace” in the region.
· India to skip Tehran meeting on Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline; Indian Petroleum Minister Murli Deora was reported unlikely to attend the mid-February meeting called by Iran to finalize the long-delayed IPI gas pipeline project; New Delhi has since July 2007 boycotted tri-lateral meeting on the pipeline project; Iran's demand for revision of prices every five years was reported to be the factor behind India’s hesitancy to join IPI.
· Iraq accuses Iran of siphoning Iraqi oil in border region; Iraqi government has sent a letter to the Iranian embassy in Baghdad demanding that Tehran stop encroaching on the oil fields; Iraqi foreign ministry officials said Iraq is to send a delegation to Iran to discuss the issue; Baghdad wants to negotiate a solution to its border dispute with Tehran and to reach an agreement for developing joint oil wells in the border region.
· Iran and Egypt to broaden ties; Ali Akbar Nategh Nouri, the supreme leader's representative, held talks in Cairo with Egyptian President Husni Mubarak; the two sides expressed willingness to restore diplomatic relations; Iran and Egypt cut their diplomatic ties since the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979; Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to visit Egypt by April.
· Iranian Parliament speaker supports Sudan's policy in Darfur; Gholam Ali Haddad-Ade reaffirmed Iran’s support for the Sudanese government's stance on the issue of Darfur; Haddad-Adel was in Khartum on an official visit.
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