TEHRAN — Iranian officials on Tuesday demanded an apology from the Obama administration before they would even consider any U.S. request to return a surveillance drone that Iran captured this month.
“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,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters Tuesday.
Iran has said that it used an “electronic ambush” to gain control of the top-secret RQ-170 Sentinel drone and land it with minimal damage about 140 miles inside Iran. The capture was announced Dec. 4, and the Pentagon has acknowledged that a U.S. drone was lost the preceding week.
Obama said Monday that the United States wants Iran to return the radar-evading stealth aircraft. “We have asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond,” he said during a White House news conference with visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
“Obama Begs Iran to Give Him Back His Toy Plane,” the semiofficial Fars News Agency concluded in a headline Tuesday.
While several Iranian officials said there is no chance that Iran will return the drone, some key figures emphasized that any move to do so must be preceded by an official U.S. apology.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, stressed that the United States must first make a formal request for the return of the drone. The next step would be an apology, he said.
“The least expectation from us is an apology by the U.S. president,” Boroujerdi said. He added that the United States also must compensate Iran for the expenses it has incurred in retrieving the drone. “We have spent a lot of energy on this,” he said.
The United States has rebuffed Iranian demands for apologies in previous incidents. In 1988, a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser shot down an Iranian civilian airliner by mistake over the Strait of Hormuz, killing all 290 people on board. Washington expressed regret over the incident and paid nearly $62 million in compensation, but stopped short of issuing a formal apology, maintaining that American crew members thought they were about to be attacked by an Iranian warplane.
The United States came close to apologizing to the Islamic republic in 2000, when then-Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said that a U.S.-backed coup in 1953 against Iran’s democratically elected government had been “clearly a setback for Iran’s political development.”
In a speech, Albright said that looking back at the event, which led to 26 years of autocratic rule by the Western-backed shah, it was “easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.”
Any apology by the Obama administration for the drone flight would be a major propaganda success for Iran’s leaders, who face increasingly tough U.S.-designed sanctions that affect life in their country, from money transactions to a shortage of Gillette razor blades.
“Instead of apologizing, they, with a brazen face, ask for the return of the plane,” Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi complained Tuesday, according to the Fars News Agency.
Iran has submitted an official complaint to the United Nations asking for a resolution against the United States. Claiming a double standard, Iranian officials say the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution in November condemning an alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington. The Justice Department has charged that the plot was orchestrated by members of the Quds Force, a wing of the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry confirmed Tuesday that the intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, was in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, where he met with Prince Nayef, the country’s longtime interior minister. According to Mehmanparast, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, the meeting was “aimed at removing misunderstandings and discussing security issues.”