Obama: US Asked Iran to Return Drone

By ABC News

Dec 12, 2011 4:50pm

ABC News’ Cecilia Vega, Luis Martinez and Kirit Radia report:

President Barack Obama said Monday the United States has asked Iran to return the spy drone captured by the country’s military.

“We have asked for it back.  We’ll see how the Iranians respond,” Obama said following a meeting at the White House with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The President’s comments  were the first official confirmation that the United States had asked for the return of the RQ-70 drone that was reported missing more than a week ago. 

 In the week since, Pentagon and State Department officials have repeatedly said they were unaware of any efforts by the American government to contact Iran to have the drone returned to the U.S.

Speaking later in the afternoon Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was doubtful the U.S. would get its “equipment” back.

“Given Iran’s behavior to date, we do not expect them to comply,” she said during a press conference with her British counterpart.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was also skeptical about the prospects about Iran returning the drone.   Speaking to reporters aboard a U.S. military aircraft Panetta said asking that Iran return the drone was an “appropriate request.”  Thoughhe added, “I don’t expect that that will happen, but I think it’s important to make that request. ”

 He says he doesn’t know the condition of the drone and what Iran or other countries might be able to glean about its capabilities.   Panetta said, ”It’s a little difficult to know just frankly how much they are going to be able to get from having obtained those parts. I don’t know the condition of those parts, I don’t know exactly what state they’re in, so it’s a little difficult to tell what they are going to be able to derive from what they have been able to get.”

A senior commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said on Sunday that Iran would not send the drone back, according to translations of Iranian television by the Associated Press.

“This is not only an intelligence victory for us, but a defeat for our enemies,” the commander said.

President Obama did not say how U.S. officials asked Iran to return the drone, since there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries.

But U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive diplomatic issues, told ABC News the request was made through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, who represents American interests there in the absence of a U.S. embassy.

Officials say the RQ-70 drone was flying a mission for the CIA  over Iran at the time that its operators lost control of the drone.

Publicly, American officials have remained tight-lipped about the drone’s mission and have not strayed beyond  a vague statement issued by coalition military forces in Afghanistan shortly after Iranian state-run media claimed they had shot down an American drone.   That statement  referred to an unarmed American reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over Western Afghanistan.”

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