Iran denies missile downed plane, calls for data

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Ali Abedzadeh, the head of the country’s national aviation department. (File/AFP)
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Friends and faculty members gather at The University of Windsor for a memorial service for the five University of Windsor students who died in the Ukraine International Airlines flight crash, Friday, Jan. (The Canadian Press via AP)
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Updated 13 January 2020

Iran denies missile downed plane, calls for data

  • Western leaders said the plane appeared to have been unintentionally hit by a surface-to-air missile
  • The head of Iran's aviation department denied those allegations Friday in a news conference in Tehran

TEHRAN: Iran has denied Western allegations that a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed outside Tehran was brought down by an Iranian missile strike and is calling on the US and Canada to share any information they have, an official said Friday.
Western leaders 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.
Ali Abedzadeh, the head of the country’s national aviation department, denied those allegations Friday in a news conference in Tehran.

US officials have given Kiev “important” information about the crash of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday after phone talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Zelensky said that the possibility the plane had been shot down by a missile was not ruled out “but it has not yet been confirmed.”

Dutch intelligence has information that the plane was probably hit by a missile, the prime minister said.

“Based on the information from the Dutch military intelligence, we can confirm that it is likely that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile has led to the crash of the aircraft,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said in Brussels that it was “indeed very likely that the plane has been shot down by Iranian missiles.”

Ukraine’s state security service has prioritized a missile attack and terrorism as possible causes of the crash, the head of the state security service Ivan Bakanov said. 

Bakanov said the idea that it could have been a missile was gaining the most public attention but that it raised a series of questions. He also cautioned against drawing “hasty conclusions.”

The ballistic missile attack on the bases caused no casualties, raising hopes that the standoff over the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani would end relatively peacefully. But Iran has sent mixed signals over whether its retaliation is complete.
If the US or Canada were to present incontrovertible evidence that the plane was shot down by Iran, even if unintentionally, it could have a dramatic impact on public opinion in Iran.
The Iranian public had rallied around the leadership after the killing of Soleimani last week, with hundreds of thousands joining the general’s funeral processions in several cities, in an unprecedented display of grief and unity.
But sentiments in Iran are still raw over the government’s crackdown on large-scale protests late last year sparked by the worsening economic situation. Several hundred protesters were reported to have been killed in the clampdown.
Those fissures could quickly break open again if public evidence is presented that Iranian authorities were responsible for the deaths of 176 people, mainly Iranians or dual Iranian-Canadian citizens.
The state-run IRNA news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying Iran “has invited both Ukraine and the Boeing company to participate in the investigations.” The spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said it will also welcome experts from other countries’ whose citizens died in the crash.
Iran had initially said it would not allow Boeing to take part in the probe, going against prevailing international norms on crash investigations. It later invited the US accident-investigating agency to take part in the investigation.
The National Transportation Safety Board said late Thursday that it would “evaluate its level of participation,” but its role could be limited by US sanctions on Iran. US officials have also expressed concern about sending employees to Iran because of the heightened tensions.
Under rules set by a United Nations aviation organization, the NTSB is entitled to participate because the crash involved a Boeing 737-800 jet that was designed and built in the US
There was no immediate comment from Boeing.

Meanhwhile, France said it was available to contribute to the probe on the incident.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: “It is important that as much clarity as possible is made and as quickly as possible.”

Pompeo says US offered to help Iran with coronavirus response

Updated 28 min 30 sec ago

Pompeo says US offered to help Iran with coronavirus response

  • The hearing meant to focus on Trump administration's dealings with Iran and Iraq, but centered on the coronavirus
  • Washington is watching to see if Iran may seek to play a spoiler role in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday the United States has offered to help with the coronavirus response in Iran, where the outbreak has killed 34 people, and raised doubts about Tehran’s willingness to share information.
“We have made offers to the Islamic Republic of Iran to help,” Pompeo said in a hearing at House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Their health care infrastructure is not robust and to date, their willingness to share information about what’s really going on inside...Iran has not been robust and I am very concerned is Iran that is not sharing information.”
The new coronavirus which emerged in Wuhan, China, in December has infected tens of thousands of people.
The Islamic Republic is the only country in the Gulf region that has reported deaths from the coronavirus, which has spread from China. 
Pompeo also warned Iran not to scuttle an upcoming agreement with the Taliban, accusing the US adversary of seeking to be a “spoiler.”
Pompeo confirmed that a one-week partial truce was holding with the Taliban, who are scheduled to sign the landmark accord with the United States on Saturday.
“There is a history of Iran engaging in activity inside of Afghanistan to act as a spoiler,” Pompeo told the committee.
“We’ve seen just these last six days a significant reduction in violence in Afghanistan and we are watching closely to see if the Islamic Republic of Iran begins to take even more active measure that undermine our efforts at peace and reconciliation,” he said.
He warned that Iran could increase risks for US troops, whose numbers are expected to be sharply scaled down under the Doha agreement.
Iran’s Shiite clerical regime has been historically opposed to the Taliban, which practices an austere form of Sunni Islam, and quietly backed the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban regime.
Iran was part of a coalition that backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and in 1998 amassed troops near the Afghan border after a Taliban assault on Iran’s consulate in Herat.
But Iran has increasingly been involved in proxy conflicts with the United States elsewhere, notably in Iraq.
Iran has been mostly cautious in its recent comments on Afghanistan.
But Foreign Minister Javad Zarif last year criticized the US talks with the Taliban, saying they only boosted the extremists and alienated the internationally backed government.
(With Reuters and AFP)