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Iran space monkey likely to spark nuclear fears from the West

Iran says it plans to send a monkey into space next month as part of its space program, potentially sparking fears from Western countries about the progress of Iran’s missile arsenal.

Five monkeys are undergoing tests, and one will be selected for the flight on board a Kavoshgar-5 rocket, state-run news agency IRNA reported on Monday, quoting the head of Iran's Space Agency.

But the experiment is likely to alarm Israel and its Western allies, who are concerned that Iran is pressing on with its plans for nuclear arms.

The fear is that Iran’s long-range ballistic technology used in Iran’s space program to propel satellites into orbit could also be used to launch atomic warheads.

Tehran has denied such suggestions, saying its nuclear work is purely peaceful and adding that it seeks only energy-producing reactors, IRNA reported.

Last year, Iran announced it had launched a rocket carrying a mouse, turtle and worms into space.

In August 2010 the country’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Iran planned to send a man into space by 2017.

Last week, Iran launched its second domestically built satellite into orbit, the Rasad 1, which it said was designed for transmitting images and for weather forecasting, according to Reuters reports.

(Eman El-shenawi, a writer at Al Arabiya English, can be reached at: eman.elshenawi@mbc.net.)