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Iranian Ambassador To The U.N. Discusses U.S. Drone Shot Down By Iran


American political leaders have been holding emergency meetings and speaking publicly all day about Iran's decision to shoot down an unmanned U.S. drone. We're hearing some of those voices in other parts of the program, and now we're going to hear Iran's perspective. While the U.S. says the drone was shot down over international waters, Iran insists it was over sovereign Iranian territory. Our colleague Steve Inskeep, host of Morning Edition, went to New York to meet with Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. And Steve joins us now. Hi there.


SHAPIRO: So you started by asking the ambassador why Iran shot down the drone. Let's listen to a little of his answer.

MAJID RAVANCHI: We tried to caution the drone through radio transmission not to get close to our airspace. Unfortunately, that drone didn't respond and got closer and closer to our airspace. And all of a sudden, we noticed that it was entering our airspace. At that time, since it was a spy drone, and we were left with no other option - just to shoot it down.

SHAPIRO: Steve, what evidence did the ambassador offer for the Iranian version of the story?

INSKEEP: He alleged that Iran has parts of the drone, Ari. And the Iranian ambassador is contending that Iranian forces picked up these bits of drone in Iranian waters, which would imply that the drone had been over Iranian airspace. We should emphasize this is what he says. We have not seen the bits of drone. The United States, of course, is offering its own evidence in the form of a video that shows a trail of smoke; may or may not be showing a drone being shot down, but it's hard to say where that video is, either.

SHAPIRO: So how does he respond to the U.S. insistence that this was over international waters and not Iran?

INSKEEP: He's simply giving the Iranian version of events and also denying a larger theory of the United States. The view of U.S. officials and U.S. analysts is that Iran is under pressure by the United States, which is imposing more and more sanctions and withdrew from a nuclear deal, and that Iran is pushing back, trying to deliver a number of forceful responses or bits of harassment, and that that's what the attacks on oil tankers recently were, that's what this drone shootdown was. That is the U.S. theory of the case.

Iran effectively denies all of that and says it is not seeking war, and that it has no reason to be provoking the United States in this way, even though it blames the United States for many of its problems.

SHAPIRO: So how does it explain what appears to be a series of escalating, aggressive moves?

INSKEEP: Well, we should mention that there is one Iranian move that is beyond doubt. If we go beyond the oil tankers and the drone, there's the matter of the nuclear deal, which Iran is still in with a number of world powers, even though the U.S. withdrew. Iran is now saying it's enriching uranium to a point beyond what that deal allows. That is something that's beyond doubt because Iran itself has acknowledged it. And so Iran is definitely responding to U.S. pressure in that way.

The Iranian ambassador points to the agreement itself. He says Iran actually has the right to do this, that if parts of the agreement aren't being kept, that other parties can also begin to withdraw from parts of the agreement, and that's what Iran is doing. That suggests that the Iranian nuclear deal is beginning to unravel. Although, the U.N. ambassador, Majid Ravanchi, also told us in the interview that Iran is still in this deal, Iran is still keeping most of it, and Iran wants to preserve the deal. That was a big question I had - what's the long game for Iran? And he says they still want to stay in this deal.

SHAPIRO: Steve, the U.S. and Iran both say they do not want war, but fears of war have become much more intense today. Did you get any sense of that from the ambassador when you spoke to him?

INSKEEP: Again and again, the ambassador insisted that he doesn't want war. The United States has publicly said it doesn't want war. National security analysts agree it's in nobody's interest. But when you do have a number of violent incidents like this, it does raise the possibility of some mistake.

SHAPIRO: That's Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, and we'll be able to hear more of that interview tomorrow on Morning Edition. Thanks so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: Glad to do it, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.