First Iranian-made satellite launched

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Iran said it had for the first time launched a domestically made satellite into orbit today, a move likely to worry its enemies at a time when its conflict with the West over its nuclear plans remains unresolved.

The launch of the Omid (Hope) research satellite, hailed by Iran as a major progress in its space technology, may irritate the administration of new US President Barack Obama, who has said he sees the Islamic Republic as a threat but is also offering direct dialogue with its leaders.

The long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit can also be used for launching weapons, although Tehran says it has no plans to do so. Analysts said the move would likely worry Israel and other states in the Middle East.

"Dear Iranian nation, your children have placed the first indigenous satellite into orbit," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a televised message.

It comes ahead of a meeting on Wednesday by senior officials from six world powers - the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and China - to discuss the nuclear row with Iran. It will be their first gathering since Obama took office.

The Obama administration has signalled that it will pursue direct talks with Tehran but has also warned Iran to expect more pressure if it does not meet the UN Security Council demand to halt atomic work the West fears has military aims.

Sending the Omid into space is a message to the world that Iran is "very powerful and you have to deal with us in the right way," an Iranian political analyst said.

Omid, launched as Iran marks the 30th anniversary this month of the 1979 Islamic revolution, is designed for research and telecommunications, state television said.

It showed footage of a rocket blasting off from a launchpad and lighting up the night sky as it streaked into space.

"With God's help and the desire for justice and peace, the official presence of the Islamic Republic was registered in space," Ahmadinejad said.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, speaking during a visit to Ethiopia, also said the satellite had peaceful aims.

But Andrew Brookes of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank in London said the development would worry Israel and others in region.

"They will think that this civilian capability will soon be transformed to a military reconnaissance and intelligence gathering capability," he said by telephone. "You don't invest all that just to launch a satellite TV channel."

Isaac Ben-Israel, a former head of Israel Space Agency, said vehicles to use satellites could also have military uses.

"If they managed to fire a satellite into space it means they can also reach Western Europe," he told Reuters in Jerusalem.

Iran is under UN and US sanctions because of the US and Western suspicions about Tehran's nuclear plans.

The Islamic state, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, says its nuclear ambitions have no military goals but are limited to generating electricity to meet the domestic needs.