President Donald Trump said Friday that the United States had nothing to do with a recent failed Iranian satellite launch, tweeting a detailed photo that raised questions about whether he had publicly released classified material.
“The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” he said in the tweet, revealing rare detail and knowledge.
“I wish Iran best wishes and good luck in determining what happened at Site One.”
Two outside experts said the image that accompanied the tweet would be available only to a government source and was very likely classified.
They noted the resolution on the image is higher than images available to anyone but the government. It could have come from a presidential intelligence briefing, they said.
The president has authority to declassify anything he wishes, but it was unclear what the purpose of doing so in this case would be.
Both the State Department and the Pentagon, as well as other government agencies, referred questions about the tweet to the White House.
With his detailed public message, the president could be letting Tehran know that the U.S. is watching, analysts suggested.
In the process, however, Trump might have disclosed critical aspects of U.S. intelligence capabilities, something usually done only for important tactical reasons, including public presentation of evidence to the United Nations Security Council to buttress U.S. claims about a military incident.
Speaking to reporters later Friday, Trump defended posting the photo and reiterated that the U.S. had nothing to do with the incident.
“We had a photo. I released it, which I have the absolute right to do,” Trump said.
He said the Iranians “were going to set off a big missile and it didn’t work out too well. Had nothing to do with us.”
An Iranian official responded to the president Saturday.
Communications minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi tweeted a selfie with what appeared to be the Nahid-1 satellite that had experienced an apparent rocket explosion at the space center meant to launch it.
“Me & Nahid I right now, Good Morning Donald Trump!” he wrote in English.
Jahromi later accompanied local journalists to a Tehran-based space research center, showing them the satellite.
While specifics about Thursday’s incident remain unclear, it marked the third failure involving a launch at the center, which has raised suspicions of sabotage in Iran’s space program.
Trump directly acknowledged those suspicions in his tweet Friday denying any U.S. involvement.
But the president might also be suggesting obliquely that either the U.S. or Israel sabotaged the test. Both countries previously damaged Iranian nuclear capability in a cyber operation known as Stuxnet.
The U.S. has criticized the space program as a way for Iran to advance its ballistic missiles.
Tehran, which has long said it does not seek nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.
Trump said Monday at the end of the G-7 summit of world leaders in Biarritz, France, that he was open to a meeting with his Iranian counterpart President Hassan Rouhani.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he is trying to arrange the face-to-face in the coming weeks, but Rouhani said Tuesday that talks would only be possible if Washington first lifts sanctions imposed on Tehran.
European parties to Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers have struggled to calm the deepening confrontation between Iran and the U.S. since Trump pulled Washington out of the deal and reimposed sanctions that have hit the Iranian economy.
Iran has scaled back its commitments under the pact in retaliation to U.S. sanctions.
Dennis Romero and Associated Press contributed.