TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran has material evidence to prove that it has captured an American unmanned aircraft, a prominent lawmaker in Tehran said Wednesday, rejecting U.S. Navy statements that none of its drones in the region was missing.
Tehran on Tuesday claimed to have captured a Boeing-designed ScanEagle drone after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf, and even showed an image of the purportedly downed aircraft on state TV. The Islamic Republic trumpeted its possession of an allegedly intact U.S. drone as another prize in its growing showdown with Washington over surveillance of Iran's disputed nuclear program.
"We have material evidence to prove that the drone we captured belongs to the U.S.," Ismael Kowsari, the head of the Iranian parliament's defense committee, told The Associated Press. "The unmanned aircraft took off from a warship. The Americans will have no choice but to confirm that one of their drones is missing."
Kowsari did not say what proof the Islamic Republic has to back up his claims, but said Tehran will release more information on the aircraft soon.
The U.S. has White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Tuesday that "we have no evidence that the Iranian claims are true." Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, also said all U.S. drones in the region are "fully accounted for."
The conflicting accounts could put pressure on both sides for more details on U.S. reconnaissance and Iranian counter-measures in the countries' growing showdown over surveillance.
There is even the possibility the drone is authentic but was plucked from the sea after a past crash and unveiled for maximum effect amid escalating tensions over U.S. reconnaissance missions - including a Predator drone coming under fire from Iranian warplanes last month.
Kowsari dismissed suggestions that the drone could have belonged to other nations in the Gulf, including the United Arab Emirates, that have ScanEagle drones in service.
"The UAE doesn't dare to engage in such activities against us. We have sufficient evidence to prove it is American. The U.S. commanders may need to recount their drones," he said. "The capture of the drone demonstrates Iran's capability of bringing down such aircraft intact."
He accused the U.S. of stepping up its espionage activities in recent months against Iran as part of intensified Western efforts to force Tehran to abandon its uranium enrichment program, a key aspect of its disputed nuclear program. The U.S. its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
"The Americans have increased their spying activities including monitoring Iran's nuclear power plant in Bushehr, Bandar Abbas port and oil facilities and export terminals," he said.
Iran believes the U.S. and its allies are seeking data about the flow of goods into Iran and the status of its oil exports after the 27-nation European Union imposed a total oil embargo against Iran July 1.
The International Energy Agency says Iran's oil exports plunged to 1 million barrels a day in July from 1.74 million barrels a day in June after an embargo by the 27-nation European Union, which accounted for around 18 percent of Iran's exports. Crude oil exports account for about 80 percent of the country's foreign revenue.
If true, the seizure of the ScanEagle drone would be the third reported incident involving Iran and U.S. drones in the past two years.
DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has obtained data from a U.S. intelligence drone that shows it was spying on the country's military sites and oil terminals, Iranian media reported its armed forces as saying on Wednesday.
Iran announced on Tuesday that it had captured a ScanEagle drone belonging to the United States, but Washington said there was no evidence to support the assertion.
The incident has underscored tensions in the Gulf as Iran and the United States draw attention to their military capabilities in the vital oil exporting region in a standoff over Iran's disputed nuclear program.
"We have fully extracted the drone's information," Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said in a statement on Wednesday, according to Iran's English-language Press TV.
The drone was gathering military information and spying on the transfer of oil from Iran's petroleum terminals, the IRGC statement said, according to Press TV. Iran's main export terminal is at Kharg Island.
The U.S. government has focused on blocking Iran's oil exports through sanctions to persuade Iran to give up its disputed nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies believe is aimed at developing a bomb, something Iran denies.
Israeli officials have threatened to strike Iran's nuclear sites if sanctions and diplomacy fail to stop its program.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz - through which about 40 percent of the world's seaborne crude oil is shipped - if it comes under attack. U.S. commanders have said they will not let that happen.
The compact ScanEagle drone had been flying over the Gulf in the last few days and was captured when it strayed into Iranian airspace, the IRGC said in a statement on Tuesday.