- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Obama on Monday pressed his request that Tehran return the U.S. surveillance drone captured by Iranian armed forces.

Mr. Obama said he would not comment “on intelligence matters that are classified,” but he said during a White House news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the U.S. wants the top-secret aircraft back.

“We have asked for it back. We’ll see how the Iranians respond,” Mr. Obama said.

Iran TV reported earlier Monday that Iranian experts were in the final stages of recovering data from the RQ-170 Sentinel, which went down in Iran this month.

Tehran has flaunted the drone’s capture as a victory for Iran and a defeat for the United States in a complicated intelligence and technological battle.



Lawmaker Parviz Sorouri, who is on the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said the extracted information will be used to file a lawsuit against the United States for the “invasion” by the unmanned aircraft.

Mr. Sorouri also claimed that Iran has the capability to reproduce the drone through reverse engineering, but he didn’t elaborate.

The TV broadcast a video on Thursday of Iranian military officials inspecting what it identified as the RQ-170 Sentinel drone. Iranian state media have said the unmanned spy aircraft was detected and brought down over the country’s east, near the border with Afghanistan. U.S. officials have acknowledged losing the drone.

Officers in the Revolutionary Guard, Iran’s most powerful military force, have claimed the country’s armed forces brought down the surveillance aircraft with an electronic ambush, causing minimum damage to the drone.

American officials have said that U.S. intelligence assessments indicate that Iran neither shot the drone down nor used electronic or cybertechnology to force it from the sky. They contend the drone malfunctioned. The officials spoke anonymously in order to discuss the classified program.

U.S. officials are concerned others may be able to reverse-engineer the chemical composition of the drone’s radar-deflecting paint or the aircraft’s sophisticated optics technology that allows operators to positively identify terror suspects from tens of thousands of feet in the air.

They are also worried adversaries may be able to hack into the drone’s database, although it is not clear whether any data could be recovered. Some surveillance technologies allow video to stream through to operators on the ground but do not store much collected data. If they do, it is encrypted.

Mr. Sorouri racheted up the anti-U.S. rhetoric in Monday’s remarks.

“The extracted information will be used to file a lawsuit against the United States over the invasion,” he told state TV.

Separately, in comments to the semiofficial ISNA news agency, Mr. Sorouri said Iran soon would hold a navy drill to practice the closure of the strategic Strait of Hormouz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, which is the passageway for about 40 percent of the world’s oil-tanker traffic.

Despite Mr. Sorouri’s comments and past threats that Iran could endanger the waterway if the U.S. or Israel moved against Iranian nuclear facilities, no such exercise has been announced officially.

Iran will make the world unsafe” if the world attacks Iran, Mr. Sorouri said.

Both the U.S. and Israel have not ruled out military option against Iran’s controversial nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at making atomic weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear activities are geared toward peaceful purposes like power generation.

Nasser Karimi reported from Tehran.

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