Iran has strongly protested what it said was the United States' use of unmanned aerial drones over its territory and said two of them had crashed this summer within its borders, according to diplomatic letters circulated at the United Nations yesterday.
Iran's charge d'affairs at the United Nations, Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi, asked the Security Council on Oct. 26 to circulate two letters from Tehran, which called for "an end to such unlawful acts" by the United States.
The Pentagon did not deny the incidents but said it could not verify the Iranian claims. "I can't confirm the validity of their statements," said Defense Department spokesman Maj. Todd Vician, after reviewing the letters.
Asked about the Iranian letters, John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said, "That's not in my bailiwick. I'm just a catcher's mitt here as far as Iran is concerned. I really can't comment."
Iran began lodging opposition to U.S. surveillance flights earlier this year. U.S. officials told The Washington Post in February that such flights had been going on since April 2004 as part of an effort to gather evidence of Iranian nuclear weapons programs and spot weaknesses in its air defenses.
The latest Iranian protests identified one "alien" unmanned aircraft as a Shadow 200 (RQ-7), which it said crashed 37 miles inside Iran in Ilam Province at sunset on July 4. A second letter said that on Aug. 25 a U.S. Hermes aircraft crashed near Khoram Abad, about 125 miles inside Iran.
"The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran strongly protests against such unlawful acts and emphasizes the necessity to observe the principles of international law concerning the sanctity of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the States," said the letters. The protests were first transmitted in August and September via Swiss channels to the United States, which has no diplomatic relations with Iran.
The Shadow is a small, lightweight drone used by the U.S. Army for reconnaissance, to pinpoint targets and to assess damage after strikes. Navigated with a global positioning system, it has a 12-foot wingspan and is designed to observe an area for about four hours at a time.
The U.S. military and the CIA have used a growing array of unmanned aircraft over Iraq and Afghanistan to gather intelligence, observe potential targets, and provide tactical information during military operations -- and the Pentagon has acknowledged the crashes of several drones since 2001.
Staff writer Colum Lynch contributed from the United Nations.