Iran turns to Italy to launch satellite

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2009 9:54 AM

Iran announced Tuesday it will use Italy to launch a communications satellite after waiting years for Russia to do the job, the semiofficial Mehr news agency reported.

General Mahdi Farahi, the head of Iran's Aero Space Industries, said the satellite, which Israeli media claims is for espionage purposes, would be launched by the Italians some time in the year after March 2011.

He gave no reason for the switch away from Russia, but in February Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad complained about Moscow's continuing failure in launching the satellite.

"A long time ago our scientists built a communications satellite, but some countries have blocked the launch," he said at the time, in a possible reference to U.S. pressure on Russia.

The satellite, which was built with an Italian company, was first displayed in 2005 and Iran at the time said it would be launched that year by a Russian Cosmos-3 satellite-carrier.

The satellite is designed to travel in low-earth-orbit to assist in data communication over a period of three years, said Farahi.

Iranian complaints over Russia's delays have been on the rise in recent weeks after Moscow warned it could back new sanctions against Iran if it fails to take a constructive stance in the nuclear talks.

Earlier this week, a top Iranian lawmaker also expressed dissatisfaction over Russia's continuing delay in delivering the sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft system. Russia and Iran signed an agreement for the system 2007, but Israel vociferously opposes the deal and has been lobbying Russia not to deliver it.

Russia is also helping Iran to build its first nuclear power plant but its inauguration has also been repeatedly delayed.

Russia is part of the U.N. effort to ensure Iran doesn't use its nuclear program for weapons-making purposes, as the West fears.

A U.N.-brokered plan in October requires Tehran to send most of its low-enriched uranium to Russia to be further enriched and eventually turned into nuclear fuel, in a move to allay international concerns.