Iran said it had launched a domestically made satellite-carrier rocket carrying live animals -- a move that may increase Western concern that Tehran is trying to build a nuclear bomb.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had said on Tuesday that Iran was ready to send its enriched uranium abroad in what appeared to be an easing of its position in the nuclear dispute.
On Wednesday, he said the satellite launch was a huge breakthrough which help break “the global domineering system” -- a reference to Iran's Western foes.
The Islamic Republic hoped to send astronauts into space soon, he said, speaking at a ceremony unveiling new satellite and space technology.
Western nations fear Iran is seeking to build nuclear bombs and are concerned that the long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit can also be used to launch warheads. Iran says it has no plans to do so.
Iran, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, says its nuclear programme is solely to generate electricity.
Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday Iran was ready to send its enriched uranium abroad in exchange for nuclear fuel.
He appeared for the first time to drop Tehran's long-standing conditions on a deal with global powers and the United States said that if Iran was serious it should tell the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Russian Foreign Minister Serge Lavrov said on Wednesday the Kremlin would welcome an Iranian decision on the enrichment offer.
Analysts believe that because of looming sanctions, Iran is trying to buy time to evade more domestic pressure. Ahmadinejad has been in favor of the deal because he wanted to gain some legitimacy following disputed presidential elections that have triggered anti-government protests, they said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week that foreign governments were moving toward consensus on imposing new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
But the Iranian president made no mention of the nuclear row at Wednesday's aerospace event.
Press TV showed a rocket blasting off from a launchpad in the desert, leaving a thick vapor trail. A home-built Kavoshgar-3 (Explorer-3) satellite rocket had been successfully launched, it said.
The rocket carried an experimental capsule and was the first Iranian launch into orbit with "a living thing." Another state television channel showed what appeared to be a mouse, worms and two turtles.
“This was a huge breakthrough...and we hope we can send our own astronauts into space soon,” Ahmadinejad said.
Mark Fitzpatrick at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the launch was one of a series and “not particularly more significant than the last one or the next one.”
“They contribute to Iran's ballistic missile capabilities, but do not foretell an ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) capability or anything else capable of threatening Western Europe or the US homeland,” Fitzpatrick said.
“The more significant missile development is the testing of the solid-fueled Sejil missile.”
One year ago, Iran launched a domestically made satellite into orbit for the first time. The Omid satellite was for peaceful telecommunications and research purposes, it said.
In December, Iran said it test-fired a long-range, upgraded Sejil 2 missile. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the time said the launch was of serious concern and underlined the case for tougher sanctions.
On Monday, a Pentagon report said Iran had expanded its ballistic missile capabilities and posed a significant threat to US and allied forces in the Middle East region.
To counter what Washington sees as the Iranian threat, the United States has expanded land- and sea-based missile defense systems in and around the Gulf, US officials said. (Reuters)