Following a Pentagon revelation that one of its unmanned planes had been targeted over the Gulf, Iran has confirmed that its warplanes did open fire on an aircraft. However, Tehran did not say where the drone came from.
Iran's defense minister Ahmad Vahidi confirmed on Friday that two Iranian fighter jets fired on a drone in the Persian Gulf last week.
However, the announcement through the state news agency ISNA said the drone was not identified and that it was over Iranian territorial waters.
"An anonymous plane entered the space over the territorial waters of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Persian Gulf area which, due to the timely, clever and decisive action of our armed forces, was forced to flee," Vahidi said.
The statement came in response to US accusations. The Pentagon on Thursday said that one of its unarmed drones had been fired upon over international waters. It said the MQ-1 "Predator" drone was conducting a routine but classified surveillance mission off the Iranian coast when the incident took place on November 1.
"They intercepted the aircraft and fired multiple rounds," said Pentagon spokesman George Little.
Little said Iranian SU-25 "Frogfoot" aircraft intercepted the drone some 16 nautical miles off the country's coast and fired multiple rounds. The Iranian planes followed the drone for several miles before it moved further from the coast and returned safely returned to an undisclosed military base.
Surveillance 'will continue'
International airspace begins after 12 nautical miles but Little claims that the US drone did not enter Iranian airspace at any point.
The US said it had warned Iran via diplomatic channels about the incident. The incident follows another aircraft-related event last year, when a CIA drone crashed inside Iran and was recovered by the government.
The US has increased its military presence in the region amid growing concern over Iran's nuclear program. Two aircraft carrier battle groups are now deployed in the area at all times.
Iran has also been hit with tough sanctions by the US, which has been accused along with Israel of conducting cyber sabotage on Iran's uranium enrichment plants.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, and has said that any negotiations need to include relief from the economic sanctions.
A new round of talks between the two countries is expected at the end of the year or in early 2013.
dr,rc /lw (AFP, Reuters)