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U.S. And Iran Disagree Over Whether Drone Was Shot Down Over Iranian Territory


Now, as we just heard, the key question over the drone incident is whether the aircraft was shot down over Iranian airspace, as Tehran says, or over international waters, as the Pentagon claims. Here is Lieutenant General Joseph Guastella with Central Command speaking at a press briefing earlier today.


JOSEPH GUASTELLA: Iranian reports that this aircraft was shot down over Iran are categorically false. The aircraft was over the Strait of Hormuz and fell into international waters.

SHAPIRO: Guastella would not take any questions after the statement. Both Iran and the U.S. are releasing their own narratives about what happened, as NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The U.S. and Iran agree on a couple of things. It was an American surveillance drone that Iran shot down, and it landed in the Strait of Hormuz, a dog-legged waterway that skirts Iran. But after that, both sides are offering up dueling statements, maps and accusations about where the drone was hit - so far, without any tangible evidence.

TOM KARAKO: Look. The proof of where the drone was at the time is almost certainly known to the United States military.

NORTHAM: Tom Karako directs the missile defense project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He says the Pentagon undoubtedly has evidence but is weighing whether it wants to release that information and reveal insights about how it does reconnaissance against Iran.

KARAKO: If you want to show where this thing was when it was shot down, I think it's within the capability of the United States to do so. But it's a choice. It's a deliberate choice.

NORTHAM: Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, wrote in a tweet what he said were the exact coordinates of the drone's location when it was hit, claiming it was over Iran's territorial waters and that sections of the drones were retrieved in those waters. Melissa Hanham is a specialist on satellite imagery and open-source data with One Earth Future, which follows peace and security issues. She says both sides have a strong initiative to get ahead of the story in order to win public support.

MELISSA HANHAM: And the frustrating part is that, even though we may get, in the next few days, satellite images and ground photos - in fact, the wreckage may indeed be recovered - it's very hard to convince people to trust their own eyes and ears. Unfortunately, people really have focused in on what they want to believe anyways. So it's unlikely the U.S. is going to convince the people of Iran one way, and it's unlikely Iran will convince the people of the United States another.

NORTHAM: The crowded waterways of the Persian Gulf have been the site of confusion and miscalculations in the past. In 2016, Iran briefly detained 10 U.S. sailors after their boat strayed into Iran's waters. In the late 1980s, a U.S. ship, the Vincennes, shot down an Iranian commercial airliner, killing almost 300 people. The Navy said it was a mistake. Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert with the Middlebury Institute, says that's always a concern in these waters.

JEFFREY LEWIS: I think the lesson of the Vincennes is that, in a situation where there is a real crisis and there are real tensions, there are military forces operating in close proximity to one another, things can get out of hand.

NORTHAM: In this case, no lives were lost, which could allow both sides to still diffuse the tensions in the Gulf. Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam
Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.