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Britain attacks Iran space launch as US levies sanctions

Britain and other Western nations have condemned Iran's launch of a satellite-carrying rocket into space as t he US imposed sanctions targeting the country's ballistic missiles programme.

The UK, Germany and France, which helped broker the landmark Iran nuclear deal in 2015, said the launch was too close for comfort to the type of intercontinental ballistic missiles used to deliver a nuclear payload.

At the United Nations, US ambassador Nikki Haley said Iran was "breaking its obligation" adding: "We can't trust them."

She said: "Under this administration, the United States will not let Iran off the hook for behaviour that threatens our interests and our allies.

"We will continue to impose consequences until Iran stops its provocations and complies fully with (UN) Security Council resolutions."

The US sanctions hit six Iranian subsidiaries of the Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, described by the Treasury Department as "central" to Iran's ballistic missiles programme.

Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin cast the sanctions as part of an ongoing US effort to aggressively oppose Iran's ballistic missile activity, including what he called a "provocative space launch" carried out on Thursday.

In another allegation against the US adversary, Mr Mnuchin said missile attacks on US partner Saudi Arabia over the weekend by Houthi rebels in Yemen had probably come with the support of Iran.

The US has long accused Tehran of shipping weapons to the Houthis, a Shiite group that controls part of Yemen and is being fought by a Saudi-led coalition.

The sanctions came a day after Iran successfully launched its most advanced satellite-carrying rocket into space, in what is probably a major advancement for the country's space programme.

The Simorgh rocket is capable of carrying a satellite weighing 550lbs, Iran state television said.

The US National Air and Space Intelligence Centre said in a report released last month that the Simorgh could act as a test bed for developing the technologies needed to produce an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

In a joint statement, the US, Britain, Germany and France called the launch "inconsistent" with the UN Security Council resolution enshrining the nuclear deal, adding that such activities destabilised the region.

The grouping represented all of the Western nations that are part of the nuclear deal, which also includes Russia, China and the European Union.

"We condemn this action," the countries said. "We call on Iran not to conduct any further ballistic missile launches and related activities."

But beyond the US sanctions, it was unclear what, if anything, the group could do to increase pressure quickly on Tehran.

Notably, the nations stopped short of saying the launch had "violated" the UN resolution, saying only that it was "inconsistent" with the text.

That is because the resolution calls upon, but does not oblige, Iran to refrain from ballistic missile development.

Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif opposed any suggestion his country had done anything wrong by launching the satellite into space.

He said on Friday that Iran was complying with the nuclear deal and drew a contrast with the US, accusing Washington of not obeying "the letter and spirit" of the deal.

"Rhetoric and actions from the US show bad faith," Mr Zarif said.

He also rejected the notion that Iran was working to develop missiles that could carry a nuclear warhead.

"Iran is not and will not be developing nuclear weapons; so by definition cannot develop anything designed to be capable of delivering them," he said on Twitter.

The US penalties reflect an attempt by Donald Trump's administration to show it is staying tough on Iran, even though Mr Trump has yet to scrap the 2015 nuclear agreement, despite threatening to do so as a candidate and labelling it a bad deal.

The six entities being sanctioned contribute to Iran's liquid propellant ballistic missiles, the Treasury Department said, including development and manufacturing of engines, launchers, guide-and-control systems and ground support as well as the liquid propellant itself.

The sanctions freeze any assets the entities may have in the US and ban Americans from doing business with them.

AP

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