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Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi confirmed on Monday that Iran successfully launched a monkey into space, fueling Western concerns that Teheran plans to develop long-range missiles.
Images broadcast on Iranian state television showed a small, gray-tufted monkey wearing body protection being strapped tightly into a pod that resembled an infant's car seat.
Vahidi's announcement on state television said the rocket carrying the monkey went 120 km into orbit.
"This success is the first step toward man conquering space, and it paves the way for other moves," AFP quoted Vahidi as saying. "This is a big step for our experts and scientists."
Iran has long said it seeks to send astronauts into space as part of its aerospace ambitions, including plans for a new space center proposed last year. In 2010, Teheran declared the launch of an Explorer rocket into space carrying a mouse, a turtle and worms.
Iran's space program concerns some Western nations. The US and its allies worry that the long-range ballistic technology that propelled Iranian rockets into space could be used to deliver nuclear warheads to a target.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the launch was "a serious concern". Such a launch would violate UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which bans Iran from "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons".
Analysts said Iran's latest rocket launch shows great progress in terms of space and missile technology.
Hua Liming, former Chinese ambassador to Iran, says Iran's strength in science and technology has long been underestimated. "Success indicates that Iran has improved tremendously in the carrying and projection capacities, which might contribute to future missile launches," Hua said. "But whether Iran will apply this progress to military practice remains to be seen."
The launch would be similar to sending up a satellite weighing about 2,000 kg, said Bruno Gruselle, of France's Foundation for Strategic Research.
In a brief visit to Beijing in December, Iran's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Amir Abdollahian told China Daily that a new round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 group, which negotiates with Iran over its nuclear program, will resume. P5+1 comprises the five UN Security Council members - China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States - plus Germany.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that the long-adjourned meeting scheduled in February was postponed once again because of participants' debates over the venue of the meeting.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Tuesday that China's stance on anti-proliferation of nuclear weapons has been clear and consistent.
China has stressed on many occasions that Beijing hopes relevant parties should reinforce dialogue for a comprehensive and long-term solution to Iran's nuclear issues.
(China Daily 01/30/2013 page12)