REPORTING FROM TEHRAN AND BEIRUT -- Iran on Tuesday rebuffed a U.S. request to return the radar-evading drone that was seized while on a CIA spying mission, saying the country should first apologize for violating Islamic Republic airspace.
"The U.S. spy drone is the Islamic Republic of Iran's possession, and our country will decide what to do in this regard," Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency.
He accused the U.S. of acting in a "bullying way" rather than offering an apology to Iran and Afghanistan, where the aircraft was based.
Iran says its armed forces downed the RQ-170 Sentinel about 140 miles inside the country earlier this month using electronic warfare. U.S. officials say the bat-winged unmanned spy plane malfunctioned and went down on its own.
Iranian officials have said the country is recovering valuable data from the drone, which appeared relatively intact in footage released by authorities, and have boasted of plans to copy the plane.
U.S. officials are skeptical about Iran’s ability to reverse-engineer the aircraft’s unique capabilities. But they have expressed concern that Iran could offer the drone to China or other U.S. rivals that are building their own stealth aircraft.
President Obama said Monday the U.S. had requested that Iran return the drone, although U.S. officials said they did not expect the country would comply.
"President Obama should not forget that the Iranian airspace was clearly violated by the U.S. drone and therefore the U.S. should first apologize for that," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters in Tehran. "We ask Mr. Obama how he and the U.S. would have reacted if U.S. airspace had been violated by a spy drone."
-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Alexandra Zavis in Beirut
Photo: This photo released last Thursday by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and taken at an undisclosed location claims to show the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone, which Tehran says its forces downed. The authenticity of the image could not be independently verified. Credit: Sepahnews / Associated Press