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World Alarmed at Reports Ukraine Plane May Have Been Downed by Iran Missile

World Alarmed at Reports Ukraine Plane May Have Been Downed by Iran Missile

Friday, 10 January, 2020 - 10:15
The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 was carrying 176 passengers and crew when it crashed on the outskirts of Tehran. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat

Officials from around the world have expressed concern over reports that the Ukrainian plane that crashed in Iran on Wednesday may have been mistakenly shot by a missile.

"The missile theory is not ruled out, but it has not been confirmed yet," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a Facebook post Friday. All 176 people on board the plane bound for Ukraine died.

He reiterated his call for "all international partners" — the US, Britain and Canada in particular — to share data and evidence relevant to the crash.

He also announced plans to discuss the investigation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday afternoon.

Western leaders have said the plane appeared to have been unintentionally hit by a surface-to-air missile near Tehran hours after Iran launched ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq to avenge the killing of its top general in an American airstrike.

Iranian officials have ruled out a missile attack but have invited the US accident-investigating agency to take part in the investigation.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, citing intelligence from Canada and other sources, has blamed an Iranian missile for bringing down the plane that had 63 Canadians on board, although

he said it "may well have been unintentional".

"The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile," he said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Friday if it is confirmed that the jetliner was mistakenly shot down “then one is honestly left lost for words."

"The greatest possible transparency (is needed) for total clarity and so nothing is swept under the carpet, because that would really not be conscionable given the dimension," he said.

He said Iran's invitation to the Americans to help investigate is “a very important signal" and he added that “I think all sides have recognized that the time has passed now for military escalation, that it makes sense to talk to each other.”

France offered to help Iran investigate the crash.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday on RTL radio that "it is necessary to establish the truth" and called for "total clarity." He did not comment on whether the plane could have been hit by an Iranian missile, which the US has asserted.

French air accident investigators have extensive experience with international crashes because they are involved any time an Airbus has an accident. This week's crash involved a Boeing.

The head of Iran's investigation team into the plane crash told state television that Tehran will use expert help from Russia, Ukraine, France and Canada “if we cannot recover data” from the plane's recorders.

Hassan Rezaeifar said recovering the data could take more than one month and the entire investigation into the crash could take more than one year.

A US official, citing satellite data, said Washington had concluded with a high degree of certainty that anti-aircraft missiles brought down the plane in error.

The official said the data showed the plane airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran when heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected. There was an explosion in the vicinity and heat data showed the plane on fire as it fell.

US military satellites detect infrared emissions from heat.

Russian lawmakers, meanwhile, ruled as “groundless” statements that the jetliner was downed by a missile, saying the West was prematurely assigning blame to Tehran.

Vladimir Dzhabarov, a lawmaker with the upper house of parliament, said Friday that “we need to be cautious with conclusions. Iranians have invited Ukraine to take part in the investigation. Why would they do it if they knew they had shot (the plane) down?”

Leonid Slutsky, a lawmaker with the lower house of parliament, echoed that sentiment and said conclusions about the cause of the crash could be politically motivated.

“Facts and solid evidence are needed, rather than vague references to intelligence findings. So far it has all been groundless,” he said.

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