By Michael Winter
An Iranian fighter jet pursuing a U.S. spy drone over the Persian Gulf was warned off by American escort planes, the Pentagon said Thursday.
The incident occurred Tuesday over international waters, said spokesman George Little. The Iranian plane, a Vietnam War-era, U.S.-made F-4, never got closer than 16 miles to the unarmed Predator drone.
Two U.S. fighter planes were escorting the drone on a "routine classified" surveillance when the Iranian jet appeared. One pilot issued an oral warning, and the American jets then closed to within 2 miles of the Iranian jet, which flew away, The Wall Street Journal reported.
"The United States communicated to the Iranians that we will continue to conduct surveillance flights over international waters consistent with long-standing practice and our commitment to the security of the region," Little said.
He did not identify the U.S. warplanes involved or say exactly where the encounter happened.
Little said initially that one U.S.. pilot had fired a warning flare, but he later retracted the statement. Another spokesman, Lt. Col. Wesley Miller, told the Associated Press that he could not explain where the Pentagon got the incorrect information.
It was the second incident in four months involving Iranian warplanes and a U.S. drone.
In early November, Iranian SU-25 fighter jets fired on an unarmed MQ-1 Predator over the Gulf, about 16 miles off the coast of Iran, but missed, the Pentagon said at the time. The drone was over international waters, the Pentagon said, noting that Iran's territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles from shore.