Drone home: Iran rejects returning 'war booty' to US

A picture released by the official website of Iran's Revolutionary Guards on December 8, 2011 shows what Iranian officials claim is the US RQ-170 Sentinel high-altitude reconnaissance drone that crashed in Iran (AFP Photo)
Iran rejects President Obama’s request to hand back the US drone it captured on December 4 and says the US has to apologize for blatantly breaching its airspace.

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Iran’s ISNA news agency quoted Ahmed Vahidi, the country’s defense minister, as saying “The US spy drone is part of the Islamic Republic’s assets and the nation will decide about future measures on the issue. The drone weighs 3,500-3,600 kg, with the main function of surveillance. These drones are very advanced in terms of technology and are ranked as the highest scientific achievements of the US. The US in a bullying way has called for the return of the drone instead of offering apology to the Iranian and Afghan nations for misusing their lands. But the Islamic Republic of Iran defends its interests strongly and logically.”

He echoed the words of an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, who called the US plea for the drone’s return “a forward escape tactic” and said the US must accept responsibility for intruding into Iran’s airspace and the ensuing consequences of such “abusive conduct.”

US President Barack Obama told reporters on Monday that the US had asked Iran to hand back the drone it allegedly lost.

Meanwhile, Obama’s response has met with some sharp criticism from former US Vice-President Dick Cheney, who criticized the current president for not destroying the drone once it had been captured by Iran. He appeared on CNN, saying “The right response to that would have been to go in immediately after it had gone down and destroy it. You can do that from the air.” He also said the US president had three options of sending someone into Iran to recover the drone, but that he had rejected all of them.

US Defense Minister Leon Panetta was far more supportive of his president, saying the US demand was “an appropriate request.”

As the US was seeking to get its drone back, an Iranian MP reported his country is planning to reverse-engineer the drone to produce an unmanned aerial vehicle of its own. He also noted that Iran was in the final stages of cracking the drone’s software codes. The US fears Iran could clone the drone or its technologically advanced tools and attributes, such as its radar-deflecting paint and its sophisticated optics technology.  

The US at first denied it had lost the drone, but now says the drone went astray during a mission near the Afghan-Iranian border.

Iran, on the other hand, has been flaunting its capture of the drone, first saying it shot down the aircraft and later claiming it was brought down by the Iranian army’s electronic warfare unit near the city of Kashmar, some 140 miles from the country’s border with Afghanistan.

An Iranian parliamentarian called the captured drone “war booty” and a seemingly intact plane was presented on the country’s state television.

Iran has also been actively voicing its outrage over the incident. Last Thursday Iran’s UN ambassador Mohammed Khazaei lodged an appeal in an official letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He urged the UN Security Council to condemn the violation of Iran’s airspace by the US and to adopt measures to end these “dangerous and illegal” acts.

Iran also voiced its discontent to the Swiss ambassador, who has been representing US interests in the country since 1980, and issued a complaint to Afghanistan, for allowing the US to use the country as a surveillance base.