Iran reject US request to return captured drone

Iranian TV images of downed drone. 8 Dec 2011 Iranian TV showed the unmanned "stealth" aircraft apparently undamaged

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Iran has rejected a US call for the return of a surveillance drone captured by Iran's military earlier this month.

The unmanned aircraft was now "property" of Iran and it was up to Iran to decide what to do with it, Defence Minister Ahmad Vahidi said.

Mr Vahidi said the US should apologise for invading Iranian air space.

Iranian TV has broadcast pictures of the RQ-170 Sentinel. Tehran says it was brought down using electronic warfare; Washington says it malfunctioned.

"The American espionage drone is now Iran's property, and our country will decide what steps to take regarding it," Mr Vahidi was quoted as saying by the Isna news agency, following a call for the aircraft's return by US President Barack Obama on Monday.

Analysis

For all its futuristic shape, the RQ-170 Sentinel is by no means state of the art. Lessons could certainly be learnt about how it is put together and the means used to cloak its exhaust, always a problem in low-observable or stealth aircraft. But reverse-engineering the Sentinel is seen by experts as probably being beyond Iran's capability.

Of greater concern to Washington is what the drone may have been carrying. The likelihood is that it had on board a full-motion video camera. This again is not cutting-edge technology. Reaper drones with more advanced multi-channel video pods have been flying over Afghanistan for about a year. If one of those fell into the wrong hands that really would be something.

But the loss of the Sentinel underlines one key point about modern drone wars. So far, US drones are being used under optimum conditions: generally good weather and crucially they face very little threat. In the future, drones may face much more challenging environments.

"Instead of apologising to the Iranian nation, [the US] is brazenly asking for the drone back," he added, according to another semi-official news agency, Mehr.

On Monday, Iranian state TV reported that military experts were in the final stages of recovering data from the drone.

A member of the Iranian parliament's national security committee, Parviz Sorouri, said the information they extracted would be used to "file a lawsuit against the United States over the invasion".

'Spies' arrested

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has admitted it is likely that the drone will not be returned. She said on Monday that despite numerous "provocations" from Iran, the US would pursue a "diplomatic approach".

Iranian Revolutionary Guards were filmed inspecting the drone on Thursday. Tehran says it had crossed the Afghan border and travelled 250km (155 miles) inside Iranian airspace before being brought down in a cyber attack.

A former US official has said the Pentagon was using the drone to keep watch on Iran's controversial nuclear programme. Western powers believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, which it denies.

In a separate development, Iran's official Irna news agency on Tuesday reported that 15 "American and Zionist" spies had been indicted.

The report, quoting Tehran's Chief Prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, gave no details about the charges, or the names of the accused.

Iran frequently accuses the US of seeking to covertly undermine its regime. In May, Iran's intelligence ministry announced the arrest of 30 CIA "spies".

Meanwhile, the US treasury and state departments announced that they were imposing sanctions against two top Iranian military officials for alleged human rights abuses.

They said Gen Hassan Firuzabadi, chief of the general command headquarters of the armed forces, and Gen Abdollah Eraqi, a deputy commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.

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