TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran aims to send a satellite into space within months and will not retreat in a nuclear row with the West, its president said on Monday, in a defiant speech on the anniversary of the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed a major rally in Tehran a week after Iran sparked international concern by test-launching a rocket designed to carry its first domestically made research satellite into orbit.
“God willing, next summer the first 100 percent Iranian-made satellite will be positioned in orbit,” he said.
The West fears Tehran is covertly trying to obtain nuclear bombs. Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter, says it needs nuclear energy to meet booming electricity demand.
The technology used to put satellites into space could also be used for launching weapons, analysts say, and both the United States and Russia have expressed concern about the rocket test.
Russia, which has long argued there is no evidence Tehran is seeking atomic weapons, and which is supplying fuel for its Bushehr nuclear power station, said the test raised suspicions about the real nature of Iran’s atomic program.
A top U.S. official said Iran’s rocket launch and reports it is testing an advanced centrifuge for uranium enrichment, which can have both civilian and military uses, were “troubling”.
“It’s hard to find a country in the world that’s more isolated than Iran right now,” U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters in London on Monday.
But Ahmadinejad made clear Iran would press ahead with its satellite work, signaling it would carry out two more rocket tests to prepare for the real launch.
State media last week said the research satellite, called Omid (Hope), would be sent into orbit by March 2009.
Ahmadinejad also said Iran would not back down in the nuclear dispute with the West, despite the threat of a third round of U.N. Security Council sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its refusal to halt sensitive atomic work.
“They should know that the Iranian nation will not retreat one iota from its nuclear rights,” he told the crowd which had gathered in the capital for the 29th anniversary of the revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah.
Iranian officials had called on people to turn out in large numbers to show their unity in the face of Western pressure. State television broadcast footage of rallies held across Iran.
The official IRNA news agency said Ahmadinejad was addressing a “million-strong gathering” but it was not immediately possible to confirm this figure.
“America should understand ... that the Iranian nation will not back down from its rights,” demonstrator Leila Jafari said.
Others at the rally burnt effigies representing Uncle Sam.
U.S. officials have accused Iran of aiming to equip its missiles with nuclear warheads. Iran says its nuclear program is designed only to generate electricity and preserve its oil and gas for export.
Burns said Washington hoped the 27-nation European Union would adopt its own sanctions resolution “which would be obviously much tougher than what the Security Council would do.”
Additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian in Tehran and Katherine Baldwin in London; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Charles Dick