The Obama administration admitted Monday it had made a formal request to Iran for the return of a U.S. stealth drone captured by Iranian military forces.
“We have asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond,” Obama said today at a White House news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also weighed in on the issue, confirming the U.S. request.
“We submitted a formal request for the return of our lost equipment as we would in any situation to any government around the world,” Clinton told reporters at a State Department news conference alongside British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
The comments would appear to quell rumors that Iran didn’t actually have the drone in its possession, despite NATO having previously confirmed that one of its drones had gone missing.
Still, many questions remain over the drone’s disappearance and capture – was the drone displayed on Iranian TV last week real? Will Iran be able to secure any classified or tactical information from their prize? Did Iran have any help in the capture?
Writing last week in The Diplomat, Flashpoints blogger David Axe quoted a source who has seen an RQ-170 up close at its home base in Utah. He said the real aircraft is larger than the object in the images broadcast by Iran.
Still, if the Iranian news reports prove to have been accurate, many analysts are curious how the aircraft was captured relatively undamaged. After all, at one point Iran claimed to have shot down the drone. Later, Iranian officials claimed to have hacked into the internal systems of the craft and to have disrupted its fly-by-wire systems. Some have even speculated China and Russia may have given Iran vital technology to aid in the detection of the advanced drones.
Iran for its part has stated it will now reverse engineer the craft, and is close to fully hacking into the internal computers systems of the drone to learn its secrets.
The Daily Mail, quoting an Iranian official, declared: “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.”
It would seem today’s admission by the United States only answers the most obvious of questions. The coming days will tell if Iran really is able to gain anything from its supposed prize, or whether it’s official statements are mostly hyperbole.
Harry Kazianis is assistant editor of The Diplomat.