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Iran says it sends second monkey into space, brings it back safely

A photojournalist takes pictures at the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) in Mahdasht, about 60 km (37 miles) west of Tehran, February 29, 2012. RE
A photojournalist takes pictures at the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) in Mahdasht, about 60 km (37 miles) west of Tehran, February 29, 2012. RE

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran said on Saturday it had sent a second live monkey into space and brought it back safely, the latest demonstration of the country's missile capabilities, state news agency IRNA reported.

"President Hassan Rouhani ... congratulated Iranian scientists and experts on successfully sending a second living creature into space," the news agency said.

Iran said it launched its first monkey to space in January.

Rouhani used Twitter to mark the latest event, a demonstration of rocket power that is likely to cause concern in the West and among some Gulf states, which are worried about Iran's nuclear ambitions.

He said the monkey was named Fargam and had been returned to earth "safe an sound."

"In total, this is the second monkey sent into space and returned in perfect health to Iran," Rouhani said in another Twitter message.

In November, the world's six powers made a breakthrough deal for Tehran to curb its nuclear program in return for limited sanctions easing.

The agreement appeared to face its first major difficulty on Friday with Russia warning that expanding a U.S. sanctions blacklist could seriously complicate the deal's implementation.

The Islamic Republic denies seeking weapons capability and says it seeks only electricity from its uranium enrichment so it can export more of its considerable oil wealth.

The West worries that long-range ballistic technology used to propel Iranian satellites into orbit could be put to use dispatching nuclear warheads to a target.

"We are aware of reports that Iran has launched an object into space," said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the U.S. National Security Council. "Our concerns with Iran's development of space launch vehicle technologies are well-known, and we continue to monitor these developments closely."

Riki Ellison, a U.S. missile defense expert, said the launch, if proven true, showed Iran had not halted work on its long range missile development program.

"If it's true, they continue to expand and grow their kong range missile capabilities regardless of their overture to the West with self reduction of their nuclear capabilities," Ellison said.

Iran's Gulf Arab neighbors view Iran missile capabilities as a threat. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have spent heavily in the past few years on advanced U.S.-made missile defense systems.

Iran's efforts to develop and test ballistic missiles and build a space launch capability have contributed to Israeli calls for pre-emptive strikes on Iranian nuclear sites and billions of dollars of U.S. ballistic missile defense spending.

(Refiles to fix say to says in headline. Adds U.S. comment)

(Writing by Mahmoud Habboush, additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-esa and Mark Felsenthal in Washington; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Doina Chiacu)

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