Iran launches monkey into space, showing missile progress


Iran said on Monday it had launched a live monkey into space, seeking to show off missile systems that have alarmed the West because the technology could potentially be used to deliver a nuclear warhead.

The Defense Ministry announced the launch as world powers sought to agree a date and venue with Iran for resuming talks to resolve a standoff with the West over Tehran's contested nuclear program before it degenerates into a new Middle East war.

Efforts to nail down a new meeting have failed repeatedly and the powers fear Iran is exploiting the diplomatic vacuum to hone the means to produce nuclear weapons.

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 powers have proposed new talks in February, a spokesman for the European Union's foreign policy chief said on Monday, hours after Russia urged all concerned to “stop behaving like children” and commit to a meeting.

Iran earlier in the day denied media reports of a major explosion at one of its most sensitive, underground enrichment plants, describing them as Western propaganda designed to influence the nuclear talks.

The Defense Ministry said the space launch of the monkey coincided “with the days of” the Prophet Mohammad's birthday, which was last week, but gave no date, according to a statement carried by the official news agency IRNA.

The launch was “another giant step” in space technology and biological research “which is the monopoly of a few countries”, the statement said.

The small grey monkey was pictured strapped into a padded seat and being loaded into the Kavoshgar rocket dubbed “Pishgam” (Pioneer) which state media said reached a height of more than 120 km (75 miles).

“This shipment returned safely to Earth with the anticipated speed along with the live organism,” Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi told the semi-official Fars news agency. “The launch of Kavoshgar and its retrieval is the first step towards sending humans into space in the next phase.”

There was no independent confirmation of the launch.

SIGNIFICANT FEAT

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters she could not confirm whether Iran had successfully sent a monkey into space or conducted any launch at all, saying that if it had done so “it's a serious concern.”

Nuland said such a launch would violate U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, whose text bars Iran from “any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.”

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.

Bruno Gruselle of France's Foundation for Strategic Research said that if the monkey launch report were true it would suggest a “quite significant” engineering feat by Iran.

“If you can show that you are able to protect a vehicle of this sort from re-entry, then you can probably protect a military warhead and make it survive the high temperatures and high pressures of re-entering,” Gruselle said.

The monkey launch would be similar to sending up a satellite weighing some 2,000 kg (4,400 pounds), he said. Success would suggest a capacity to deploy a surface-to-surface missile with a range of a few thousand kilometers (miles).

Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank, said Iran had demonstrated “no new military or strategic capability” with the launch.

“Nonetheless, Iran has an ambitious space exploration program that includes the goal of placing a human in space in the next five or so years and a human-inhabited orbital capsule by the end of the decade,” Elleman said. “Today's achievement is one step toward the goal, albeit a small one.”

The Islamic Republic announced plans in 2011 to send a monkey into space, but that attempt was reported to have failed.

Nuclear-weapons capability requires three components – enough fissile material such as highly enriched uranium, a reliable weapons device miniaturized to fit into a missile cone, and an effective delivery system, such as a ballistic missile that can grow out of a space launch program.

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.

MANOEUVRING OVER NEXT TALKS

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the powers had offered a February meeting to Iran, after a proposal to meet at the end of January was refused.

“Iran did not accept our offer to go to Istanbul on January 28 and 29 and so we have offered new dates in February. We have continued to offer dates since December. We are disappointed the Iranians have not yet agreed,” Michael Mann reporters.

He said Iranian negotiators had imposed new conditions for resuming talks and that EU powers were concerned this might be a stalling tactic. The last in a sporadic series of fruitless talks was held last June.

Iranian officials deny blame for the delays and say Western countries squandered opportunities for meetings by waiting until after the U.S. presidential election in November.

“We have always said that we are ready to negotiate until a result is reached and we have never broken off discussions,” IRNA quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying.

Salehi has suggested holding the next round in Cairo but said the powers wanted another venue. He also said that Sweden, Kazakhstan and Switzerland had offered to host the talks.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference: “We are ready to meet at any location as soon as possible. We believe the essence of our talks is far more important (than the site), and we hope that common sense will prevail and we will stop behaving like little children.”

Ashton is overseeing diplomatic contacts on behalf of the powers hoping to persuade Tehran to stop higher-grade uranium enrichment and accept stricter U.N. inspections in return for civilian nuclear cooperation and relief from U.N. sanctions.

IRAN DENIES FORDOW BLAST

Reuters has been unable to verify reports since Friday of an explosion early last week at the underground Fordow bunker that some Israeli and Western media said wrought heavy damage.

“The false news of an explosion at Fordow is Western propaganda ahead of nuclear negotiations to influence their process and outcome,” IRNA quoted deputy Iranian nuclear energy agency chief Saeed Shamseddin Bar Broudi as saying.

In late 2011 the plant at Fordow began producing uranium enriched to 20 percent fissile purity, well above the 3.5 percent level normally needed for nuclear power stations.

While such higher-grade enrichment remains nominally far below the 90 percent level required for an atomic bomb, nuclear proliferation experts say the 20 percent threshold represents the bulk of the time and effort involved in yielding weapons-grade material – if that were Iran's goal.

Tehran says its enhanced enrichment is to make fuel for a research reactor that produces isotopes for medical care.

Diplomats in Vienna, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency is based, said on Monday they had no knowledge of any incident at Fordow but were looking into the reports.

“I have heard and seen various reports but am unable to authenticate them,” a senior diplomat in Vienna told Reuters.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which regularly inspects declared Iranian nuclear sites including Fordow, had no immediate comment on the issue.

Iran has accused Israel and the United States of trying to sabotage its nuclear program with cyber attacks and assassinations of its nuclear scientists. Washington has denied any role in the killings while Israel has declined to comment.

Additional reporting by William Maclean and Marcus George in Dubai, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Jon Hemming and Cynthia Osterman

Plan ahead


Up Front


It all started because of the theft of myautomobile. One sunny morning, while waiting for my car pool, Inoticed something in a storefront window across the street, justbehind some citizens standing at a bus stop. It was a monkey. In a diaper.

To my knowledge, I have never had a history ofalcohol or drugs, so I crossed the boulevard to get a better look atthis baby simian picking paint chips off the window sill. And there Iwas, separated only by glass, staring at this ape with the sad eyesand rabbinical beard, mesmerized (in stark contrast to the jadedpedestrians waiting for the bus).

Left, Brian Staples with his friends, Zach the macaw andBeijing the Asian Macaque, also pictured above.

So it’s only fitting that, two months later, myinterview with Brian Staples — the monkey’s owner — takes placehere at the Magic Castle, perched on the hills over-lookingHollywood. For Staples has led — quite literally — a magical life.A veteran magician, Staples is at home at the exclusive club where heis a member — he knows every staffer here, every twist and turn ofthe ornate, secret passage-laden mansion.

Ne’ Eitan Staples-Yosher 26 years ago, Staplestechnically grew up in Spokane, Washington, but, in truth, has beentraveling the world since he was six. Raised by — his words — “veryeccentric parents”, Staples followed their professional lead,performing with, and raising all manner of exotic animals. In fact,his uncle gave him a cougar as a bar mitzvah gift.

Billed as the world’s youngest magician, Staplesspent his teens touring Europe, Asia and South and Central America.He has met the king of Spain; the prince and princess ofLiechtenstein; and the chief rabbi of Israel. And through it all, hehas never lost a sense of his Orthodox Jewish identity, something heattributes to the lifelong influence of Rabbi Benzaquen ofSeattle.

At age 21, while dating a New York actressappearing in “Miss Saigon,” Staples was noticed by a casting agent.Money and a clause honoring Shabbat obligations lured Staples into alucrative side career as a ring-master. Some complications forcedStaples not to renew his contract and, after starting his own magicentertainment company — Landmark Productions — he wound up in LosAngeles, where he intends to finally settle down and establishroots.

Recently, Staples fashioned yet another career forhimself leasing his exotic animals to Hollywood, including hisdiapered monkey, an Asian Macaque named Beijing. The Staplesmenagerie in Washington state presently consists of tigers, lions,leopards, flocks of cockatoos and McCaws, and a brood of Macaqueslike Beijing. Staples is part of a privileged international communityof animal handlers with licenses to own exotic animals and travelfreely with them.

Staples’ primo primate employee is no ordinarydiapered monkey. Beijing has appeared in several major motionpictures and television programs, most recently featured on “MightyMorphin’ Power Rangers”, E! Channel’s “The Pet Shop”, and ESPN’s “TheJohn Force Show”. She has spent Passover seder with Keanu Reeves,picked bugs out of Kenny Rogers’ beard, and wiled away afternoonswith Staples’ buddy, Dustin Diamond (“Saved By The Bell”‘s Screech).Some other facts you should know about Beijing: She loves dogs, has apet rabbit named Harry, and is shomershabbat. Yes, Beijing keeps kosher, eatingalmost anything Staples eats (an aversion to pizza crustsaside).

Ahead for Beijing is more movie and commercialwork, including an upcoming Miramax production. And as for therestless and easily bored Staples, he is tackling a new challenge –acting — all while maintaining his businesses. In fact, he plans tofollow in the footsteps of inspirations like Robert De Niro andDustin Hoffman.

“I’m anxious to put my skills to work.”Michael Aushenker, Community Editor

For more information on Staples’ magicentertainment and exotic animal services, contact Brian at (213)804-5609.

100 Rabbis Online to Help Converts toJudaism

The Conversion to Judaism Home Page(www.convert.org) now has direct e-mail links to more than 100 Rabbisfrom all movements in Judaism. The rabbis are available to answerquestions and help people interested in conversion to Judaism. TheHome Page provides extensive information and advice for those who areexploring the option of joining the Jewish people.

The website was created by Lawrence J. Epstein, anauthor of four books on conversion. The site is part of theConversion to Judaism Resource Center. Those without access to thesite can get a free copy of the Center’s brochures “Should I Convertto Judaism?” and “How to Discuss Conversion to Judaism” by writingto: Resource Center, 74 Hauppauge Road, Room 53, Commack, NY 11725 orcalling (516) 462-5826.

Wishing…

Yes, Jerry Seinfeld, left, actually metMake-A-Wish Foundation recipient Ayal Beer at a taping of one of thefinal episodes of “Seinfeld.”

 

When 13-year old Ayal Beer spent almost all oflast year at an Israeli hospital for treatment of acute leukemia, theordeal was brightened by regularly watching the Jerry Seinfeldshow.

So when the Make-A-Wish Foundation, whichspecializes in fulfilling the requests of children withlife-threatening illnesses, asked Ayal for his biggest wish, theanswer was easy: to meet Seinfeld and watch him tape a show.

Last week, Ayal’s dream came true. Accompanied byhis parents and a sister, he watched in fascination for more thanthree hours as the cast taped one of its last shows on the tightlyguarded set at the CBS-TV studio.

The climax came when Seinfeld himself walked overto the Beer family for a brief chat.

“It was great, I actually got to meet Jerry,” Ayalsaid later. “I told him how much people in Israel liked his show andgave him a T- shirt which said ‘I Met Ayal Beer’ in front and ‘Jerry’on the back.”

Seinfeld, in turn, marveled that Israelis spokesuch accentless English, explained by the fact that the Beer parents,Leo and Nettie, are both native New Yorkers who moved to Israel in1975.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation in Israel, which scoreda coup last summer when it arranged a meeting between young YoniDotan and President Clinton, almost despaired at the even tougherassignment of lining up Seinfeld.

However, with the help of Michael Forman, a LosAngeles entertainment executive, Lori Schaefer Bacher, theorganization’s Israel coordinator, got the green light two daysbefore the taping.

She notified the Beer family, then visitingrelatives in New Jersey, and the following day the Beers were ontheir way to Los Angeles.

They were picked up at the airport by a limousine,were housed in a luxury hotel, and even managed to visit Disneyland,said Leo Beer, a dentist practicing in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv.

Make-A-Wish is an international volunteerorganization, active in 14 countries. The Israel branch, known asMishalat Lev and founded one year ago, has fulfilled the requests of43 children during that period, said Bacher. — Tom Tugend, ContributingEditor

 

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