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Iran to test motor for new space rocket

TEHRAN, Feb 7 (AFP) - Iran announced on Sunday that it is to test the motor for a new space rocket, just six months after the successful launch of a medium-range missile sparked concern in the United States and key regional ally Israel.

The test will be carried out by the armed forces on Tuesday, just two days before 20th anniversary of the Islamic revolution which overthrew the pro-Western shah, Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani told a news conference here.

But he swiftly added that the rocket, dubbed the Shahab-4, "has no military use and will be not be produced on a large scale."

Last July Iran successfully launched the Shahab-3 missile, with a range of 1,300 kilometres (800 miles), prompting acute fears in the United States and its main regional ally Israel which lies within the missile's range.

"With the Shahab-3 we attained our objectives and have no need to manufacture missiles of similar range," Admiral Shamkhani insisted.

"We have the right to have our own satellite and launcher," he said, adding that Iran had achieved its "the deterrent capability it wanted with the Shahab-3 missile and had no need for new missile launchers of greater range."

Shamkhani said that the Shahab-3, which is currently on display at an anniversary exhibition of military equipment at the capital's international fair ground, had given Iran a "real deterrent punch."

"Thanks to this deterrent punch, Israeli leaders have sharply reduced their threats and hostile language against Iran," he said.

But Shamkhani went out of his way to stress that the missile was not meant as a deterrent against any other country in the region.

"Our missiles are no threat to any Islamic country -- we made quite clear that the Shahab-3 would never be used against Moslem territory," Shamkhani said.

The defence minister said that one test firing of the Shahab-4 rocket motor had already been carried out, but said it had not been a success because of a "mechanical problem."

He insisted that the missiles had been developed entirely with Iranian technology, rejecting persistent reports that the programme was dependent on North Korean technology.

He did not specify the nature of the satellite Iran intended to put into space although late last month parliament approved a budget appropriation for the launch of telecommunications satellites.

MPs authorised up to 300 million dollars of foreign loans during the coming financial year starting March 21 to pay for the purchase and launch of a telecommunications satellite.

The borrowing was approved even though most other items of government expenditure were sharply cut as part of an austerity package intended to tackle a mounting economic crisis here sparked by a sharp fall in the price of Iran's main export oil.

Throughout the past decade, Iran has been trying to develop its own telecommunications satellite.

Work started during the 1990s on a satellite dubbed the Zohreh, but technical and financial problems prevented completion of the project.

Israel has expressed great concern over Iran's missile and rocket programme and with US help is currently developing the Arrow-2 anti-missile missile to counter the perceived threat.

Both French defence officials and independent analysts had expressed doubt about the progress of Iran's missile programme, questioning whether the Shahab-3 missile was really yet fully operational.

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