U.S. asks Iran to give back drone
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration has delivered a formal request to Iran for the return of a U.S. surveillance drone captured by Iranian armed forces, but said it is not hopeful that Iran will comply.
President Barack Obama said Monday that the U.S. wants the top-secret aircraft back. “We have asked for it back. We’ll see how the Iranians respond,” Obama said during a White House news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki on Monday.
In an interview broadcast live Monday night on Venezuelan state television, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said nothing to suggest his country would grant the U.S. request.
“The Americans have perhaps decided to give us this spy plane,” Ahmadinejad said. “ We now have control of this plane.”
Speaking through an interpreter, Ahmadinejad said: “There are people here who have been able to control this spy plane, who can surely analyze this plane’s system also. ... In any case, now we have this spy plane.”
He added, “Very soon, they’re going to learn more about the abilities and possibilities of our country.”
Today, a semi-official Iranian news agency said authorities have shrugged off the U.S. request. Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi said the United States should apologize for invading Iranian air space instead of asking for the return of the unmanned aircraft.
Obama wouldn’t comment on what the Iranians might learn from studying the downed aircraft. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said it’s difficult to know “just frankly how much they’re going to be able to get from having obtained those parts.”
Former Vice President Dick Cheney today called the downing of the drone “a significant intelligence loss.”
“For us to go in and take out the drone that crashed, I think, would have been a fairly simple operation,” he said on CBS’s “The Early Show.” But Cheney said the administration “basically limited itself to saying please give it back.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Panetta said they’re not optimistic about getting the drone back because of recent Iranian behavior that Clinton said indicated “that the path that Iran seems to be going down is a dangerous one for themselves and the region.”
“We submitted a formal request for the return of our lost equipment as we would in any situation to any government around the world,” Clinton told reporters at a State Department news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
“Given Iran’s behavior to date, we do not expect them to comply but we are dealing with all of these provocations and concerning actions taken by Iran in close concert with our closest allies and partners,” she said.
Panetta said the request to return the drone was appropriate. “I don’t expect that that will happen,” he said. “But I think it’s important to make that request.”
Neither Obama nor Clinton would provide details of the drone request, but diplomatic exchanges between Washington to Tehran are often handled by Switzerland, which represents U.S. interests in Iran. The State Department said Monday that the Swiss ambassador to Iran met with Iranian foreign ministry officials last week but refused to say what they discussed.