Iran said on Monday it had launched a live monkey into space, seeking to show off missile delivery systems that are alarming to the West given Tehran’s parallel advances in nuclear technology.
The defence ministry announced the launch as world powers sought to agree a date and venue with Iran for resuming talks to resolve a nuclear standoff with the West before it degenerates into a new Middle East war.
Efforts to nail down a new meeting have failed repeatedly and the powers fear Iran is exploiting the diplomatic vacuum to hone the means to produce nuclear weapons.
The Islamic Republic denies seeking weapons capability and says it seeks only electricity from its uranium enrichment so it can export more of its oil wealth.
The powers have proposed new talks in February, a spokesman for the European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Monday, hours after Russia urged all concerned to “stop behaving like children” and commit to a meeting.
Iran earlier in the day denied media reports of a major explosion at one of its most sensitive, underground enrichment plants, describing them as Western propaganda designed to influence the nuclear talks.
An defence ministry said the space launch of the monkey coincided “with the days of” the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday, which was last week, but gave no date, according to a statement carried by the official news agency IRNA.
The launch was “another giant step” in space technology and biological research “which is the monopoly of a few countries,” the statement said.
The monkey was sent up in a Kavoshgar rocket dubbed “Pishgam” (Pioneer), reaching a height of more than 120 km (75 miles), IRNA said.
“This shipment returned safely to Earth with the anticipated speed along with the live organism,” Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi told the semi-official Fars news agency. “The launch of Kavoshgar and its retrieval is the first step towards sending humans into space in the next phase.”