Even though it's low tech and apparently worthless.The US has asked Iran to return a surveillance drone downed earlier this month, Barack Obama disclosed on Monday.Obama was asked about the missing drone during a joint press conference with the Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki to mark the withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the end of the month.
"We have asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond," Obama said but ended with a smirk, an acknowledgement that Iranian co-operation was highly unlikely.
It is the first time that the US has formally acknowledged that Iran has the drone.
Obama declined to answer a question about whether US national security had been undermined by the loss of the drone to Iran. "With respect to the drone inside of Iran, I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters that are classified," he said.
Tehran said on Sunday it had reverse engineered the drone in order to extract important technical information about how it is put together.
The US insists the drone malfunctioned and was not shot down.
General Hossein Salami, deputy head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, said on Sunday that Iran would not be handing it back because it amounted to a violation of its air space and was a hostile act.
Although Obama asked for its return, this appeared to be a formality and there is little sign that it is going to develop into a major international crisis comparable to the 1960 stand-off when Russia downed the U2 spyplane.
But tensions have been growing between Iran and the US. Israel has threatened to attack Iranian nuclear installations to prevent it achieving a nuclear weapon capability. The Obama administration has said it is reluctant to be dragged into another war.
The visit by Maliki to the White House is intended to highlight again the exit of US troops. The president announced, amid great fanfare, the withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq last year, then again in October and again yesterday. There will be another burst of publicity when the last trooper crosses the border from Iraq into Kuwait.
One of Obama's big campaign promises was to end the war in Iraq, even though the timetable for withdrawal had already been put into place in 2008 by George W Bush. But Obama can claim in the 2012 re-election campaign that he fulfilled his pledge.
White House press spokesman Jay Carney offered a taste of this when he said: "This is a momentous visit because, as you know, the Iraq war – a war that we've been engaged in for eight and a half years – is over. And after eight and a half years of sacrifice, America's war in Iraq is coming to an end. Since President Obama took office, nearly 150,000 US troops have been removed from Iraq and hundreds of bases have been shut down. In the next two weeks the final US forces will cross the border. For the first time in over eight years no US troops will be preparing to deploy to Iraq. We will have no bases in Iraq. The war is over and the troops are coming home."
Obama was asked if he still thought, as he had said on the campaign trail, that it was a "dumb" war. Given the American war dead, he diplomatically shuffled by this, saying: "I think history will judge the original decision to go into Iraq."
On Syria, Maliki, who is politically closer to the Iranian government than to Washingotn, refused to back US calls for the removal of Syrian president Bashir al-Assad, who has signed a defence pact with Tehran. Obama agreed that there were what he called "tactical differences" between the US and Iraq in their approaches to Syria.
Maliki insisted it was not the role of the Iraqi government to call on another leader to stand down and he hoped there would be a peaceful resolution in Syria.