Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasted Iran's satellite launch this week as "dangerous" and "provocative" and urged the international community to intervene.
"For years, Iran has claimed its space program is purely peaceful and civilian," Pompeo said in a statement Saturday. "The Trump Administration has never believed this fiction. This week’s launch of a military satellite by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, makes clear what we have said all along: Iran’s space program is neither peaceful nor entirely civilian."
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard launched its first satellite into space Wednesday, dramatically revealing what experts described as a secret military space program that could advance its ballistic missile development amid wider tensions between the Islamic Republic and the U.S.
Using a mobile launcher at a new launch site, the Guard said it put the “Noor,” or “Light,” satellite into a low orbit circling the Earth.
Iranian state TV late Wednesday showed footage of what it said was the satellite and said it had orbited the earth within 90 minutes. It said the satellite’s signals were being received.
Pompeo said the launch proved that Iran was spreading falsehoods when it repeatedly claimed that its space program was peaceful.
"The most recent military launch, which was developed and conducted in secret, proves that these statements were lies," Pompeo said.
The launch comes as Iran has abandoned all the limitations of its tattered nuclear deal with world powers that President Trump unilaterally withdrew America from in 2018. Trump’s decision set off a monthslong series of escalating attacks that culminated in a U.S. drone strike in January that killed a top Iranian general in Iraq, followed by Tehran launching ballistic missiles at American soldiers in Iraq.
As the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and historically low oil prices, the missile launch may signal a new willingness to take risks by Iran. Trump himself later tweeted he told the U.S. Navy “ to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” both raising energy prices and renewing the risk of conflict.
Pompeo said the space launch signals Iran's nuclear weapon aspirations.
"This satellite launch vehicle and others launched before it incorporate technologies identical to, and interchangeable with, ballistic missiles, including longer-range systems such as intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBMs]," Pompeo said in calling on the international community to reject Iran's development of ballistic-missile capable technologies.
"No country has ever pursued an ICBM capability except for the purpose of delivering nuclear weapons," he said.
The Revolutionary Guard caught world powers by surprise this week by launching the military satellite as part of a secret space program as Trump threatened to sink any Iranian vessel harassing U.S. forces.
Iran has suffered one of the world’s worst outbreaks of COVID-19. Experts both inside and outside of Iran believe Tehran also is underreporting the scale of the coronavirus crisis.
“Iran, of course, has seized the opportunity presented by COVID-19, which is what’s preoccupying Americans at the moment,” said Ariane Tabatabai, a Middle East fellow who studies Iran at the Washington-based German Marshall Fund.
“In part, it’s trying to distract from its own botched response to the pandemic and partly, it sees the United States at its weakest in a while and so it’s using this to raise the cost of the maximum pressure campaign to force the U.S. to end it.”
Pompeo called for support in extending the United Nations conventional arms embargo on Iran, which is set to expire this October. He also urged the European Union to sanction individuals and entities working on Iran’s missile programs.
"When the Iranian people are suffering and dying from the coronavirus pandemic, it is regrettable to see the regime waste its resources and efforts on provocative military pursuits that do nothing to help the Iranian people," Pompeo said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.