A key US lawmaker on Tuesday denied Iran's claims of having brought down a US drone, saying "technical" problems pulled the state-of-the-art unmanned aircraft from the sky and into Tehran's hands.
"I will say without hesitation that this is not something that anyone had anything to do with coming down with, other than a technical problem," said US House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican.
"There was a technical problem that was our problem, nobody else's problem. I think there's a lot of PR (public relations) going on," he said at The Foreign Policy Initiative think tank's 2011 forum.
The bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel, a stealth drone designed to evade radar for surveillance flights, was on a CIA mission when it went missing, US officials, speaking anonymously, have said previously.
The episode has handed Iran a propaganda coup and Iranian state television has shown images of a robotic aircraft that experts say resembles the Sentinel.
Iran has vowed to reverse engineer the drone but has given contradictory accounts of how the aircraft went down on December 4. Tehran initially said it shot down the drone, but later claimed the Iranian military managed to hack into the plane's flight controls.
Rogers said "it's not a good day for the United States" anytime a hostile nation nabs a piece of high-tech intelligence hardward, but played down the potential impact of Tehran dismantling and analyzing the drone.
"The good news is: While they're spending time re-engineering, we will be spending time engineering, and that's the biggest difference," he said.
"They're very proud that they're going to re-engineer this, and I hope they spend five, six, seven, eight years doing that, that would be great, because we'll be long past that" level of technology, said Rogers.
US President Barack Obama acknowledged for the first time Monday that the drone was in Iranian hands, and said the United States has asked Tehran to return the sophisticated aircraft.
"We've asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond," Obama said at a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
It was the first open confirmation by the Obama administration that Iran was in possession of the drone, which Tehran says it brought down as the plane flew over its territory.
Obama, however, shed no further light on the plane's mission or why it failed to return to a base in Afghanistan.
"These things are not infallible," said Rogers.
by Andrew Beatty
© 2011 AFP
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