TEHRAN — Iranian military experts are in the final stages of extracting data from a sophisticated U.S. drone that crashed in Iran under mysterious circumstances this month, a lawmaker said Monday.
In Washington, President Obama said Monday that the United States has asked Iran to return the drone.
Parviz Sorouri, a key member of the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, told state television that the extracted information will be used to sue the United States over the “invasion” by the unmanned aircraft.
He said Iran will “soon” start to reproduce the drone after a process of reverse engineering, which is nearly finished. “In the near future, we will be able to mass-produce it. . . . Iranian engineers will soon build an aircraft superior to the American [drone] using reverse engineering,” Sorouri was quoted as saying.
Sorouri also said the country’s armed forces will soon conduct an exercise on closing the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway between the Gulf of Oman and the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
Noting the strategic importance of the strait, he said, “We will hold a military maneuver on how to close the Strait of Hormuz soon,” according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “If the world wants to make the region insecure, we will make the world insecure.”
Iranian military officials declined to comment on the remark. The oil shipped through the strait accounts for about 17 percent of oil traded worldwide and roughly a third of all oil traded by sea.
At a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Obama was asked if he was concerned that Iran would be able to weaken U.S. national security by obtaining intelligence from the downed drone.
“I’m not going to comment on intelligence matters that are classified,” Obama responded. “We have asked for it back. We’ll see how the Iranians respond.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in separate comments, said that the United States had made a formal request that the drone be returned. She added: “Given Iran’s behavior to date, we do not expect them to comply.”
U.S. officials have offered differing perspectives on whether the drone could be exploited for technological secrets. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who previously directed the CIA, said the answer partly depends on the condition of the wreckage.
“It’s a little difficult to know, just frankly, how much they’re going to be able to get from having obtained those parts,” Panetta told reporters aboard a military aircraft. “I don’t know the condition of those parts.”
A commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which claimed a key role in bringing down the drone, said Sunday that Iran would not return the stealth aircraft.
Iranian state TV broadcast video of the drone on Thursday. Military officials were shown inspecting what Iran said was the RQ-170 Sentinel drone.
The Pentagon has acknowledged that a U.S. drone was lost the week before Iran’s initial Dec. 4 announcement, supposedly while flying a mission over western Afghanistan. U.S. officials have confirmed that the drone belonged to the CIA.
Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, said in a television interview last week that “there is the potential for reverse engineering, clearly.” But other analysts said it would be difficult to duplicate the manufacturing know-how needed to build a clone of the RQ-170, and that any data on board the aircraft was likely to be encrypted and of little use to an adversary.
Iran says it forced the drone to land about 140 miles into its territory by using “cyber warfare methods.” U.S. officials dispute this, saying the aircraft apparently malfunctioned.
Staff writers William Branigin and Joby Warrick in Washington and Craig M. Whitlock, traveling with Panetta, contributed to this report.
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