TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran said on Sunday it had successfully launched its first rocket into space, at a time of mounting tension with the West over its nuclear programme.The xenophobic Right will be quick to point out that the technology to launch a satellite into orbit is essentially the same as that of launching a continent-spanning nuclear weapon. Which is true, if only half the story - you then have to be able to get any nuke down again, in one piece and on target.
"The first space rocket has been successfully launched into space," a state television anchor announced, without disclosing its range or the date of the launch.
"The rocket was carrying material intended for research created by the ministries of science and defence," Mohsen Bahrami, the head of Iran's aerospace research centre, told state television.
He did not give further details on the nature of the cargo. State television has yet to broadcast pictures of the launch.
Iran's claim of success in launching a space rocket appears to be the first major step towards its stated ambition of putting homemade satellites into space on the back of Iranian-made rockets.
Iran has for the past years been pressing ahead with a nascent space programme, which has already seen an Iranian Russian-made satellite put into orbit by a Russian rocket in October 2005.
That satellite, called Sina-1, was Iran's first and so far only probe to be launched into space and was described by the Iranian press at the time as being for research and telecommunications purposes.
Iran has said it is planning the construction and launch of several more satellites over the next three years.
Officials were quick to emphasise that the rocket had been manufactured using Iran's own resources, echoing similar statements about its nuclear programme.
However, Iran's insistence that the whole project was a home-grown one (a bit of a lie, they've had foreign assistance on developing the technology, lots of it) suggests very strongly other motives than the bald assertion of a weapons capability and it has a significant bearing on the whole debate about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons plans.
The Iranian national pride/inferiority complex really shouldn't be underestimated. It's just about the prime driver of their foreign policy in the same way that proving to the voters that America is No.1 drives US foreign policy no matter who is in the White House.
That's why Iran won't give up uranium enrichment - it's a pride thing, a not being seen as inferior any more thing. It's the same with their space program.
And that is the single biggest "handle" for engaged diplomacy the US has. It's a lever that could be used to accomplish much, but instead the Bush administration prefers threats, innuendo and stone-faced intransigence.
Update Just for a contrast, how many major media outlets or blogs did you see mention this on Thursday?
ISLAMABAD (CNN) -- Pakistan successfully test-fired on Friday a new version of a ballistic missile that is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead up to 1,245 miles (2000 km), Pakistani military sources said.
The surface-to-surface Shaheen II missile is believed to have been launched from a firing range north of Karachi, where the military typically conducts such tests.