Iran’s government today announced the successful launching of a research rocket carrying a mouse, two turtles and worms into space. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad trumpeted the launch as a “very big event” and promised on state-controlled television that “The scientific arena is where we could defeat the (West’s) domination.” The launch of the Explorer-3 rocket is part of Iran’s ambitious space program, which concerns many Iran-watchers because the same technology used to launch research rockets and satellites can also be used to deliver warheads in ballistic missiles. Significantly, the launch was announced by Iran’s Defense Minister, General Ahmed Vahidi.

Ahmadinejad also unveiled three Iranian-built satellites and a new booster rocket that reportedly is capable of carrying a satellite into orbit about 300 miles above the earth. The ceremony took place on the “National Day of Space and Technology” which is part of the ten day run-up to the February 11 anniversary of Iran’s 1979 revolution. During the same period last year, Iran launched an Iranian-built satellite into space with an Iranian-built rocket for the first time.

The space launch celebration came the day after Ahmadinejad reversed course and eased Tehran’s rejection of a proposed deal brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency that would involve Iran transferring the bulk of its low-enriched uranium to be refined overseas and then returned for use in a medical-research reactor. Tehran originally had accepted the deal “in principle” last October before rejecting it and making an unacceptable counter-proposal last year. The Obama Administration had supported the deal as a means of buying time for a possible diplomatic deal on Iran’s nuclear efforts. Now Ahmadinejad has zig-zagged once again, proclaiming: “If we allow them to take it, there is no problem.”

U.S. officials understandably remain wary of Ahmadinejad’s tactical shift, saying that if Iran has agreed to the deal, Tehran should officially notify the IAEA. Many suspect that Ahmadinejad’s public offer is a calculated move to derail efforts to escalate sanctions against Iran at the United Nations Security Council by giving China and Russia more diplomatic cover for further stalling a long-overdue sanctions resolution.