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.”