The United States has warned Iran not to proceed with “provocative” plans to launch three space vehicles, claiming they are “virtually identical” to nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and would violate a UN resolution.
"The United States will not stand by and watch the Iranian regime's destructive policies place international stability and security at risk," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on January 3.
"We advise the regime to reconsider these provocative launches and cease all activities related to ballistic missiles in order to avoid deeper economic and diplomatic isolation," he said, without specifying what steps the United States would take should Iran pursue the launch.
Pompeo said a launch of the three rockets, called Space Launch Vehicles (SLV), would violate UN Security Council Resolution 2231 of 2015.
The resolutions called on Tehran "not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons."
The resolutions were tied to the 2015 nuclear accord signed by Iran with six world powers -- the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China, and Russia. It provided Tehran with some relief from financial sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
U.S. President Donald Trump in May 2018 pulled out of the deal negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and began reimposing sanctions, a move that has hit the Iranian economy and its currency hard.
Trump said Tehran was violating the spirit of the accord by continuing to develop nuclear weapons and by supporting terrorist activity in the region -- charges Iran has denied.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on January 3 also denied Pompeo's newest allegations, saying the space launches and similar missile tests are vital for defense and not nuclear in nature.
He added that the United States itself was in breach of the nuclear accord and was “in no position to lecture anyone on it."
In November, Brigadier General Ghasem Taghizadeh, Iran's deputy defense minister, said Tehran would launch three satellites into space "in the coming months."
"These satellites have been built with native know-how and will be positioned in different altitudes," he said.
News agencies in Iran have reported the satellites are for use in telecommunications and suggested a launch was imminent.
U.S. officials have consistently condemned Iranian missile tests and launches.
Pompeo on December 1 assailed what he described as Iran's testing of a medium-range ballistic missile “capable of carrying multiple warheads.”
Few details of the test were released by Tehran or Washington, but an Iranian spokesman reiterated that “Iran's missile program is defensive in nature."
On July 27, 2018, Iran launched its most advanced satellite-carrying rocket to date, the Simorgh, angering the United States and its allies.
U.S. officials said that type of technology is inherently designed to carry a nuclear payload, and the Pentagon said the technology can be used to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, in a letter to the Security Council at the time, said the launch “represents a threatening and provocative step by Iran."