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Iran and Bolivia sign space cooperation agreement

Iranian ambassador to Bolivia Seyyed Reza Tabatabaei Shafiei, and the head of the Bolivian space agency, Iván Zambrana, exchange copies of the MoU in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, on 26 August 2016. Photograph courtesy of Mehr News Agency.
Iranian ambassador to Bolivia Seyyed Reza Tabatabaei Shafiei, and the head of the Bolivian space agency, Iván Zambrana, exchange copies of the MoU in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, on 26 August 2016. Photograph courtesy of Mehr News Agency.

The Iranian and Bolivian governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at the end of August that commits both countries to extensive cooperation in space issues.

The MoU was signed in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra on 26 August 2016 by the Iranian ambassador to Bolivia, Seyyed Reza Tabatabaei Shafiei, and the head of the Bolivian space agency, Iván Zambrana, in the presence of the Iranian and Bolivian foreign ministers, Mohammad Javad Zarif and David Choquehuanca.

According to the Iranian news organisation Mehr News Agency, the MoU covers, “expansion of scientific, technical and academic relations in the field of space and other areas of mutual interest, cooperation between universities and research centers, public and private institutes, cooperation on exchanging technology, expertise, equipment and other related resources, exchanging experiences on design and construction of satellites, space lab equipment, training human resources and exchanging scientists and technical experts.”

Bolivia already operates the Túpac Katari 1 (TKSat 1) communications satellite that it ordered from the Chinese satellite manufacturer China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) in December 2010, and was launched in 2013. Since, then Bolivia has also expressed interest in acquiring a high-resolution earth observation satellite, claiming to have a budget of U.S.$100 million for that programme.

Iran, on the other hand, has a long track record of indigenously designing, building, and occasionally launch small experimental satellites. While it is known that Iran has had discussions with foreign satellite manufacturers – primarily Russian – for communications and earth imaging satellites, to date nothing has come of these.

Iran also possesses its own, indigenous launch capability, but is only able to launch small payloads into low earth orbit.

Geopolitically, Iran and Bolivia share ideological beliefs and worldviews that for now broadly bind them together. These beliefs are centred around anti-American sentiments and a neo-Marxist stance on socio-economic issues, as described by former U.S. intelligence analyst J. Matthew McInnis in a recent report published by the U.S. think-tank the American Enterprise Institute:

Iran’s anti-Americanism originates from not only the revolutionary leaders’ hatred and distrust generated by US support of the shah’s regime but also an adopted Marxist critique of the US-led political-economic-security system that Iran believes promotes exploitation and neo-colonialism of developing countries. This latter idea resonates well with Iranian resentment of the humiliation it suffered at the hands of world powers during the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties. Tehran is willing to work closely with rogue states (like North Korea and Venezuela), the Non-Aligned Movement, and any other countries or international organizations willing to challenge US and Western predominance, whether or not they are Muslim.

Absent real and shared geostrategic imperatives, however, it remains to be seen whether this ideological partnership will transform into substantive and meaningful space cooperation for both Iran and Bolivia. This said, with growing concerns about Iranian covert activity in Latin America it is possible that the MoU also allows Iran access to Bolivian space systems for a range of diplomatic and other purposes.

Original published at: http://spacewatchme.com/2016/09/iran-bolivia-sign-space-cooperation-agreement/