The White House is reportedly in talks with billionaire Elon Musk to install SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service in Iran. Through this move, the Biden administration apparently wants SpaceX to support anti-government protests in Iran, after its leaders restricted internet access. Faced with the uncertain situation of Musk’s support for Ukraine, will the CEO of SpaceX be able to yield to this new request from the American authorities?
The uprising began in mid-September after the arrest of a 22-year-old Iranian woman who was allegedly beaten to death for not wearing a hijab (a garment worn by Muslim women that covers their head leaving the face exposed) . The ensuing civil unrest was followed by a brutal crackdown by Thran on its own people, which left over 200 people dead.
On July 12, human rights activists urged women across the country to post videos of themselves removing their hijab in public to coincide with National Hijab and Chastity Day in the official Iranian calendar. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, women have been legally required to wear modest Islamic clothing. In practice, this means that women must wear a chador, a full-body coat, or a headscarf and a coat that covers the arms.
In response to this initiative, the Iranian government has pledged to use facial recognition technology on public transport to identify women who violate the strict hijab law. The satellite broadband service could help Iranians circumvent the regime’s restrictions on accessing the internet and certain social media platforms.
Last month, the US Treasury Department said certain satellite internet equipment could be exported to Iran, suggesting that SpaceX may not need a license to provide satellite broadband service in Iran. In response to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s tweet that “the United States has taken steps to advance “internet freedom and the free flow of information”, Musk said he would enable Starlink to Iranians.
The US State Department and the Freedom Online Coalition, a cross-country advocacy group focused on Internet access, have urged Thran to lift its Internet censorship. Millions of Iranians rely on these and other tools to connect with each other and the outside world, they said in a joint statement.
Below is the press release from the US State Department:
“We have our foot on the accelerator to do everything in our power to support the aspirations of the Iranian people,” a senior CNN administration official reportedly said. It’s our policy, period. At the same time, it is truly an Iranian movement led by young girls and reaching out to other aspects of society. And we don’t want to clip their movement in any way.
Relations between the US government and SpaceX are difficult
Last week it was revealed that the rocket maker told the Pentagon it could not, after pledging to give Ukraine broadband terminals and provide free satellite service to the war-torn nation, continue to do so for an indefinite period.
Since they began arriving in Ukraine last spring, Starlink terminals have been a vital source of communication for the Ukrainian military, allowing it to fight and stay connected as cellphone and internet networks have been disrupted. destroyed in his war against Russia. About 20,000 Starlink satellite units have reportedly been donated to Ukraine so far. Musk tweeted that the operation cost SpaceX $80 million and will top $100 million by the end of the year. But as vital as they are, these “charitable” contributions may soon end.
SpaceX reportedly warned the Pentagon that it could stop funding the service in Ukraine if the US military does not pay tens of millions of dollars a month. Last month, Musk’s rocket company reportedly sent a letter to the Pentagon saying it could no longer fund the Starlink service as it had. The letter also called for the Pentagon to provide funding for Ukrainian government and military use of Starlink, which SpaceX said would cost more than $120 million for the remainder of the year and could cost nearly 400 million dollars for the next 12 months.
However, after coming out to indicate that he could no longer afford to fund Ukraine for free, Musk again reacted with a tweet: Even if Starlink continues to lose money and other companies get billions of dollars taxpayers, we will continue to fund the Ukrainian government for free.
To date, SpaceX has withdrawn its request to the Pentagon to fund the continued use of Starlink internet terminals in Ukraine, according to a statement from Musk. The statement on Twitter comes just hours after it was reported that the Pentagon was considering footing the bill using a fund that funds arms and equipment contracts for Ukraine’s military. Of the 25,300 terminals that were sent to Ukraine, about 10,630 paid for satellite internet service, added Musk, who also said he is seeking donations from Starlink for regions in need.
But despite news that SpaceX has withdrawn its funding request, Starlink’s long-term future in Ukraine is far from settled. So in this context, can we expect support from Musk Iran? Nothing is impossible, we would say.
Source: US Department of State
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