What's really behind Trump's surprising tweet on Iran's 'failed satellite launch'

At face value the president's tweet could be showing an unusual but genuine courtesy towards Tehran - but equally he could be acknowledging US involvement

Negar Mortazavi
Washington DC
Friday 30 August 2019 22:24
Donald Trump and Hassan Rouhani suggest they could meet to resolve US-Iran crisis

Donald Trump has claimed that the US had nothing to do with reports of a failed Iranian satellite launch – and sent his “best wishes and good luck” to the Iranians in determining what happened at the site in the city of Semnan.

Trump tweeted: “The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran. I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.”

The language of the president’s tweet is a bit surprising, considering his usual tough rhetoric against Iran and the many hostile tweets he has put out in the past. Today’s tweet was exceptionally polite and respectful, and it could be read in two different ways.

Assuming that a failed launch did in fact happen in Semnan, it is possible that the United States had no involvement in the incident as Trump says, and he is truly sorry and expressing his emotion in a courteous language. That would be more in line with Trump trying to be respectful towards Iranian leaders and setting the stage for a potential meeting with the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in upcoming weeks at the United Nations in New York. Iran’s satellite launch attempts have malfunctioned in the past and this would not be an unusual event. Just a few months ago in January 2019, the launch of Iran’s Payam satellite was unsuccessful, as part of a series of other unsuccessful launches in the past.

However, it is also possible that an incident happened with involvement from the United States and now Trump is trying to get ahead of the blame game through this seemingly innocent tweet. Iranian officials have accused Americans of such intervention in the past. And the US government has a secret programme that tries to sabotage Iran’s satellites and missiles programmes, according to current and former American officials, and the New York Times reported earlier this year that the Trump White House accelerated that secret programme.

Trump has put out statements on sensitive issues in the past, that later turned out to be false, so this would not be his first time. And US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has slammed Iran’s satellite launches, claiming that they violated a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Thomas Juneau, professor at University of Ottawa and former defence analyst who specialises on Iran, told The Independent it was plausible the US was responsible, partly or fully, for the failed launch.

“But Trump’s tweet was inappropriate in too many ways to count. Morally, I don’t think it’s appropriate for the president of the United States to taunt an adversary like Iran. The US should behave as a responsible great power; when Trump behaves like a petulant child instead, he hurts the US. It is also not clear where precisely that image came from, but we can see what appears to be a shadow on it, suggesting that someone took a picture of the satellite imagery before Trump tweeted it,” he said.

“It is likely that if anybody else than the president had done this, it would have been a security violation. This, again, sets a bad precedent and example.”

Meanwhile, Iranian officials have claimed that there was no incident. The minister of information and communications technology, Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, wrote on Twitter: “Many are asking about how our satellite is doing. Apparently there have been reports that the third attempt to launch a satellite has been unsuccessful. Frankly, Nahid 1 is doing well, is in the laboratory, and reporters can come visit.”

He also attached a promotional video of the Nahid 1 satellite from an Iranian channel.

But Iran’s denial of an incident is also not enough evidence. Iranian officials have been promoting their satellite program as a token of patriotism and national pride, and it is not easy to acknowledge failures of their program, especially if such failures happen due to interventions from the United States.

Friday is the weekend in Iran. As the Iranian week starts on Saturday, we should have more information from Iranian officials and Iranian media, to better understand what really happened in Semnan and judge Donal Trump’s tweet with more clarity.

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