President Obama has a message for Iran: He would like America's downed spy drone back.
Obama revealed the request for the return of the drone--which fell to earth in Iran recently, and has since been flaunted in video footage by the Iranian government--during a Monday White House news conference. The president shared the podium with Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as both leaders discussed the future of American-Iraqi relations after the withdrawal this month of the last remaining U.S. troops.
But Obama's comments on the seized drone at least temporarily upstaged the designated subject of the conference--and are all but certain to become instant fodder for late-night comedy and GOP primary campaign barbs.
"We've asked for it back," President Obama said of the spy plane, according to an Agence-France Press report. "We'll see how the Iranians respond."
"With respect to the drone inside of Iran, I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters that are classified," he added.
Iran claimed to have brought down the RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone mostly intact eight days ago, after operators lost control of it on a classified CIA-Pentagon surveillance mission over the country. The very existence of the stealth reconnaissance plane-- dubbed the "Beast of Kandahar," and manufactured by Lockheed Martin--received no official acknowledgment from U.S. government circles until 2009. American officials more recently reportedly confirmed the RQ-170 was used for extended surveillance of Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after the successful U.S. raid that killed the al-Qaida leader last May.
Iran--which has since lodged a formal diplomatic protest over the drone's apparent violation of Iranian air space--has given scant indication that it will leap to the Obama administration's request for the craft's return.
Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Brig. General Hossein Salami told Iran state television Sunday that Iran won't give the drone back, and regards "the drone's violation of Iranian airspace as a hostile act" by the United States, the Washington Post's Thomas Erdbrink reported.
Already, partisan critics of the Obama White House could hardly contain their glee at news of the request. This was after all but the latest Western request that Tehran seemed likely to flout--along with several rounds of UN Security Council resolutions demanding Iran curb its nuclear program.
"If you were Iran, and Pres O asked you to return our drone, what would you say??" Ari Fleischer, GOP public relations strategist and former spokesman for the George W. Bush White House, asked on Twitter.
"'O: I asked Iran 2 return drone & we'll see how they r[e]spond," Fleischer wrote in another Twitter post mocking the request. Ronald Reagan "didn't ask Iran 2 r[e]turn hostages. Iran feared him, so they were freed."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton--who herself has occasionally revealed private talking points publicly--tried to blunt any suggestion of naivete in the U.S. request.
"We submitted a formal request for return" of the drone, but "don't expect them to comply," Clinton said Monday, CBS News' Cami McCormick reported.
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