NEW DELHI (Dispatches) -- Iran will continue with its aerospace program despite U.S. warnings, Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday, adding there is no international law prohibiting such a program.
Zarif, who was in New Delhi on a bilateral visit, also told Reuters that leaving a 2015 nuclear deal agreed with world powers is an option available with Tehran but is not the only option on the table.
The United States earlier this month issued a pre-emptive warning to Iran against pursuing three planned space rocket launches that it claimed would violate a UN Security Council resolution because they use ballistic missile technology.
Under the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which enshrined the nuclear deal in 2015, Iran is "called upon” to refrain from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for up to eight years.
Iran has ruled out negotiations with Washington over its military capabilities, particularly the missile program. It says the program is purely defensive and denies missiles are capable of being tipped with nuclear warheads.
U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. He said the deal was flawed because it did not include curbs on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or its anti-terror role in the Middle East.
Tehran has said Washington is not in a position to invoke the UN resolution after withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the nuclear agreement is official called.
On Tuesday, American broadcaster CNN said it had obtained new images which allegedly indicated Iran preparing to launch a remote sensing satellite into space.
The television said the images were the latest sign that the Islamic Republic is moving ahead with the planned mission despite recent warnings from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"The high-resolution satellite images, captured by Planet Labs on January 4, 6 and 7, show activity at the Imam Khomeini Space Center consistent with steps that were taken prior to a previous launch in 2017, according to researchers at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey,” it said.
"There are no indications the launch is for military use despite Pompeo's argument that the launch vehicle incorporates technology used in ballistic missiles,” it added.
Several Iranian media outlets have recently suggested that a launch is imminent. CNN said the new images appear to show preparations are already underway to send the satellites into orbit using a Simorgh space launch vehicle.
"The Simorgh is a two-stage space launch vehicle that uses a cluster of four Shahab-3 engines in its first stage and smaller steering engines in its upper stage," according to according to Jeffrey Lewis, of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
Last week, Pompeo implored Iran to scrap its planned satellite launches. While he stopped short of outlining how the U.S. might react, Pompeo suggested the move could lead to new sanctions.
"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.
"This action includes launching SLVs, which incorporate technology that is virtually identical to that used in ballistic missiles, including in intercontinental ballistic-missiles (ICBMs)," Pompeo claimed in last week's statement.
But that assertion is misleading, according to Lewis, who told CNN that "the Simorgh is not an ICBM and it cannot, if used as a ballistic missile, strike the United States."
According to Lewis, Pompeo's argument linking Iranian space launches to ballistic missile activity is reminiscent of the Obama administration's stance on developing various rockets for civilian and military missions.
Pompeo, speaking in Jordan on Tuesday, insisted Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria was not going to put a dent in efforts to contain Iran, though the planned move is widely seen as giving Tehran a victory. Pompeo also hinted at new economic sanctions against Tehran.
"You'll see in the coming days and weeks we are, we're redoubling not only our diplomatic, but our commercial efforts to put real pressure on Iran to achieve what it is we set out for them back in May," Pompeo said. "The President's decision to withdraw our folks from Syria in no way impacts our capacity to deliver on that," he insisted.
Referring to 12 conditions that the U.S. laid out in May for Iran to meet -- which were widely seen as a demand for regime change in everything but name -- Pompeo said, "these are simple asks we ask of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to behave like a normal nation and the coalition is just as committed to it today as it was yesterday."