Iran launches live monkey into spaceTuesday 29 January 2013 14.45
Iran's defence ministry has announced the successful launch of a live monkey into space.
The ministry announced the launch as world powers sought to agree a date and venue with Iran for resuming talks to resolve a nuclear standoff with the West.
Efforts to nail down a new meeting have failed repeatedly amid concerns Iran is exploiting the diplomatic vacuum to hone the means to produce nuclear weapons.
Iran denies seeking weapons capability and said it seeks only electricity from its uranium enrichment so it can export more of its oil wealth.
A spokesman for the European Union's foreign policy chief said new talks had been proposed for next month.
Iran earlier 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.
A Defence Ministry source said the space launch of the monkey 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 source said.
The monkey was sent up in a Kavoshgar rocket dubbed "Pishgam" (Pioneer), reaching a height of more than 120km, IRNA said.
"This shipment returned safely to Earth with the anticipated speed along with the live organism," Defence 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."
Iran's English-language Press TV displayed photographs of the monkey inside its capsule, but did not say if these were from before or after the launch.
There was no independent confirmation of the launch.
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.
The Islamic Republic announced plans in 2011 to send a monkey into space, but that attempt was reported to have failed.