Iran is preparing to launch two new domestic satellites into space, according to a new announcement by Iranian military leaders that is stirring discussion among U.S. national security insiders who say the move is likely cover for the test firing of advanced intercontinental ballistic missile technology that could be used as part of Iran's nuclear program.
The latest test comes as the Trump administration continues to engage in a comprehensive review of the Iran nuclear agreement that U.S. officials tell the Washington Free Beacon will result in a full-scale plan to "meet the challenges Iran poses with clarity and conviction."
Iran continues to boost its military might and move forward with the testing of controversial ballistic missile technology. The expertise needed to launch satellites into space is similar to that needed to properly launch intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could potentially reach U.S. soil.
U.S. officials and national security experts have been paying close attention to Iran's missile progress as North Korea ups its provocative moves. Tehran and Pyongyang have long traded illicit missile technology on the black market and Iran's nuclear progress closely mirrors that of its partner.
The Iranian satellite launches also come as Iran engages in an unprecedented effort to reorganize and boost its military so it can serve as an offensive fighting force, a move that has drawn concern among U.S. national security insiders.
One State Department official, speaking only on background, told the Free Beacon that the Trump administration is moving closer to formulating a plan aimed at confronting Iran's increasingly provocative behavior.
"As Secretary [Rex] Tillerson said, the Trump administration is currently conducting a comprehensive review of our Iran policy," the official said. "Once we have finalized our conclusions, we will meet the challenges Iran poses with clarity and conviction."
Iranian military leaders announced this week that they are preparing for the launch of two new domestically produced satellites.
"Now, we have two ready-to-launch satellites; one of them is Amir Kabir sensing satellite and another one is Nahid telecommunication satellite and over 97 percent of preparation works have been carried out on them," Iranian Communications and Information Technology Minister Mahmoud Vaezi was quoted as saying Monday in the country's state-controlled press.
Iran has a history of using space launches as cover to test and refine its ICBM technology, which remains part of its larger nuclear weapons program.
Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on rogue regimes, told the Free Beacon that launches of this nature have only increased since the landmark nuclear agreement relaxed international restrictions on Iran's military behavior.
"That Iran uses its satellite program as cover for ballistic missile development is no secret although, quite realistically, since John Kerry loosened restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile program, they don't need to hide quite so much," Rubin said. "The key thing to recognize is that we're no longer talking about just Iran's capability."
Rubin said that U.S. leaders should be paying close attention to the illicit Iranian-North Korean arms trade.
"When it comes to nuclear technology, Iran and North Korea are like sorority sisters swapping clothes or an old married couple sharing a toothbrush," Rubin said. "What happens in Tehran doesn't stay in Tehran."
Saeed Ghasseminejad, a research fellow and Iranian regime expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, called on the Trump administration to impose new sanctions on Iran as a way to roll back its provocative behavior.
The Obama administration moved in its final days in office to lift a number of sanctions on Iran that have enabled it to reap billions in cash windfalls, a portion of which has gone to fund the Islamic Republic's military buildup.
"The best way to stop Iran's ballistic missile program is to impose sanctions on the industries involved in the program," Ghasseminejad said. "This includes the petrochemical, mining and metallurgy, telecommunications, automotive, oil and gas, and electronics industries. The U.S. used the industry-based sanctions to curb Iran's nuclear program and they were very effective."