Iran Rejects U.S. Request for Return of Drone

December 13, 2011
By RICK GLADSTONE, The New York Times

Iran on Tuesday rejected a request by President Obama to return an American surveillance drone that the Iranians say they captured on Dec. 4., state media in Tehran reported.

“We have asked for it back — we’ll see how the Iranians respond,” Mr. Obama said of the drone on Monday in a short session with reporters at the White House. Mr. Obama appeared with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq, with whom he discussed issues including American concerns about Iran’s influence in the region.

Press TV, a state-financed Iranian satellite broadcaster, quoted Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi as telling reporters on Tuesday that the drone “will remain in the country’s possession as part of its assets.”

“The U.S. spy drone is part of the Islamic Republic’s assets and the nation will decide about future measures on the issue,” General Vahidi said.

The broadcaster said the drone was “brought down with minimal damage by the Iranian Army’s electronic warfare unit on December 4 when flying over the northeastern Iran city of Kashmar” about 140 miles from the border with Afghanistan.

The President’s request was his first public comment about the drone, a remote-controlled spying aircraft, in a case that has raised American tensions with Iran.

Mr. Obama was answering this question: “And speaking of Iran, are you concerned that it will be able to weaken America’s national security by discovering intelligence from the fallen drone that it captured?”

Mr. Obama did not elaborate on the episode or on Iranian assertions that its forces had captured the drone through a digital attack on the aircraft’s avionics, which they say caused it to land safely inside northern Iran.

American officials have attributed the loss of the drone to a technical malfunction. Just how the drone, which was managed by C.I.A. controllers in neighboring Afghanistan, ended up on the ground in Iran, apparently nearly intact, remains unclear.

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