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The Farda Briefing: Space Cooperation Between Russia, Iran Raises Western Concerns  

A Russian Soyuz rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on August 9, carrying an Iranian Khayyam satellite into orbit.
A Russian Soyuz rocket lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on August 9, carrying an Iranian Khayyam satellite into orbit.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I'm senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following and what I'm watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Russia successfully launched an Iranian satellite into space on August 9, in a move that has raised concerns in the West. U.S. officials fear that the satellite could be used by Moscow to boost its intelligence capabilities in Ukraine, which it invaded in February. There are also worries that the satellite will provide Iran "unprecedented capabilities" to monitor potential military targets in Israel, its archenemy, and other countries in the wider Middle East region.

Tehran has rejected those claims, saying Iran will have full control and operation over the satellite "from day one." Iran has said the remote-sensing satellite will only be used for civilian purposes, including monitoring border areas, surveying water resources, and managing natural disasters.

Why It Matters: The satellite launch is the latest sign of the deepening ties between Iran and Russia. It came just weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Tehran, where he and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged to work together against the West.

Both countries have been hit by Western sanctions and international isolation. Yuri Borisov, head of Russia's state space corporation Roskosmos, hailed the launch as an “important landmark" in cooperation between Moscow and Tehran. Iran’s Telecommunications Minister Issa Zarepour, who attended the launch in Kazakhstan, praised it as “historic” and "a turning point” in space cooperation between the countries.

The satellite launch has also put a spotlight on Iran’s space program. In recent years, Tehran has launched several satellites into low Earth orbit and announced plans to send astronauts into space. But Iran has also seen a succession of accidents and failed satellite launches in recent years.

John Krzyzaniak, a research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said in June that Iranian satellites do not have advanced capabilities, but they represent “stepping stones to more sophisticated satellites that will be more useful and remain in orbit for longer periods.”

What's Next: Russia’s successful launch of the Khayyam satellite, named after the 11th-century Persian poet and philosopher Omar Khayyam, could worsen tensions with the United States. Just last month, Washington claimed that Tehran was preparing to deliver hundreds of combat drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine.

"Russia deepening an alliance with Iran is something that the whole world should look at and see as a profound threat,” a State Department spokesperson was quoted as saying on August 9.

The United States has long expressed concerns over Iran’s space program, which has both a civilian and military component. The United States fears that Tehran could use the program to enhance its ballistic-missile capabilities.

Stories You May Have Missed

• A group of 70 political and civic activists, university professors, and artists from Iran and abroad condemned in a joint statement the Islamic republic's treatment of the Baha'i community. The statement follows a spike in restrictions and pressure on members of the religious community.

Baha'is -- who number some 300,000 in Iran -- say they face systematic persecution in Iran, where their faith is not officially recognized. Iranian security forces have arrested dozens of Baha'i followers in recent weeks and raided the homes of hundreds of others. Among the signatories of the statement were Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi and former political prisoner Atena Daemi.

• The wife of a jailed Iranian filmmaker and activist says her husband was taken to the hospital after contracting COVID-19 but was returned to prison without receiving treatment.

Tahereh Saeedi, Jafar Panahi's wife, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that after her husband was transferred to a hospital in Tehran, where he was expected to spend the quarantine period, security agents suddenly removed his IV and took him back to prison.

"He has not had any contact with us since then, and it is very unlike Jafar. It is not a good sign, and I am very worried," Saeedi said.

Panah Panahi, Panahi's son, said on Instagram on August 7 that his father's transfer to the hospital was just for show.

Panahi, 62, was arrested in early July as part of a renewed crackdown by the Iranian authorities on dissent as antiestablishment sentiment and near daily protests across the Islamic republic rattle the government.

What We're Watching

U.S. and Iranian negotiators held a new round of talks in Vienna last week in a bid to salvage the landmark 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers. Days later, the European Union submitted what it said was the “final text.” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that “what can be negotiated has been negotiated.”

The bloc, which has been mediating indirect talks between Iran and the United States, has warned that the sides only have a few weeks to sign the deal. A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Washington was ready to “quickly conclude a deal” based on the EU text. Iran has disputed that the EU text is final and nonnegotiable.

Why It Matters: It is unclear if Iran will agree to the EU text. But Tehran is under mounting pressure, with Western patience running thin after more than a year of grueling negotiations. There appears to be only one outstanding issue to resolve. Reports suggest that Iran wants the UN nuclear agency to drop its probe into the origins of nuclear material found at three undeclared Iranian sites. Tehran also faces pressure at home, where there have been months of protests over a deteriorating economy that has been crippled by U.S. sanctions.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have to

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Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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