Iran has issued just two of 12 visas to Canadian officials en route to Tehran after plane crash, Ottawa says
|Toronto Star 10 Jan 2020 at 23:51|
OTTAWA—Iran announced Saturday that its military ‘unintentionally’ shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 aboard.
The statement came Saturday morning and blamed “human error” for the shootdown.
Iran had denied for several days that a missile downed the aircraft. But then the U.S. and Canada, citing intelligence, said they believe Iran shot down the aircraft.
A military statement carried by state media said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military centre” of the Revolutionary Guard. The military was at its “highest level of readiness,” it said, amid the heightened tensions with the United States.
“In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit,” the statement said.
It apologized for the disaster and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent such “mistakes” in the future.
The statement also said those responsible for the strike on the plane would be prosecuted.
Earlier, a frustrated Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said that, by Friday, Iran had issued just two visas to Canadian officials looking to fly to Tehran, short of the 12 needed to make their own assessment about the cause of the devastating crash.
A team of 10 Global Affairs officials was waiting in Ankara, Turkey, Friday and two investigators from the Transportation Safety Board were on their way to join them, all hoping to get to Tehran to probe the cause of the crash and provide consular services, such as the repatriation of the Canadian victims.
The Boeing 737-800 jet operated by Ukraine International Airways crashed minutes after it departed Tehran’s airport bound for Kyiv. Champagne said Friday that the number of Canadian victims had been revised to 57, down from the 63 that was initially reported by the airline. In all, 138 passengers were ultimately bound for a connecting flight to Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday that evidence from “multiple sources” indicated that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.
The TSB said it had two investigators headed overseas but cautioned that Canada’s involvement in the probe “is still being determined.”
But to help press for answers, Canada will lead an international group of countries that had citizens on the flight — Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and the U.K. — to “speak with one voice,” Champagne said.
Canada will create its own emergency task force comprising senior officials to support victims’ families and loved ones. And he said Trudeau has tasked Toronto-area MP Omar Alghabra to work directly with the family members.
Earlier, Iran denied any responsibility, rejecting allegations that one of its missiles was to blame.
“What is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane,” Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s national aviation department, said Friday.
He pressed countries nations such as Canada to reveal evidence to back their claims the crash was caused by a hostile act.
The crash came amid heightened military tension in Iran after that country unleashed a missile attack on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. and coalition forces, retaliation for Washington’s targeted killing of a prominent general.
Canada’s role far from certain in probe of Iran plane crash
Both the U.K. and the U.S. say they have reached a similar conclusion as Canada that a missile was the cause.
“ We’re going to let the investigation play out before we make a final determination,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a White House briefing Friday.
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Pompeo, who spoke with Champagne Friday, said the U.S. and others would take “appropriate actions” once the results of the probe are known.
Yet Iranian authorities have apparently cleaned up the accident site, depriving international investigators of the opportunity to scrutinize the debris field.
CBS journalist Elizabeth Palmer said on Twitter that a network crew visited the site Friday. “Virtually all pieces of the plane were removed yesterday, say locals. Scavengers now picking site clean. No security. Not cordoned off,” Palmer wrote.