Canada Seeks Official Status In Iran Crash Probe

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Relative and friends of the flight crew members of the Ukrainian 737-800 plane that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran, lay flowers at a memorial inside Borispil international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard, Iranian state TV and officials in Ukraine said. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

OTTAWA: Transport Minister Marc Garneau says Canada is demanding official status in Iran’s investigation of the crash of a Ukraine International Airlines jet in Tehran last week.

Iran admits its air-defence forces shot the plane down, having not identified it as a commercial airliner.

All 176 people aboard were killed, including 138 people who were headed for Canada.

Garneau says two Canadian investigators are in Iran as part of an international team and have been getting good co-operation, but he wants their participation in the probe formalized.

He says the plane’s “black boxes’’ are in Iranian hands, but another two investigators are ready to go wherever and whenever the recorders are examined.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and University of Alberta President David Turpin listens to speeches during a memorial for the victims of the Ukrainian plane disaster in Iran this past week in Edmonton, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

Canada is organizing a meeting in London with representatives from several countries that lost citizens in the crash, to co-ordinate dealings with Iran.

LONDON: Meanwhile an argument over Iran’s nuclear deal is complicating the Tehran crash probe. Iran’s president levelled threats Wednesday against Europe in response to European countries’ new crackdown on his country’s violations of their nuclear deal _ a move Canada is also supporting.

The escalation of rhetoric over the nuclear deal is casting a shadow over an international meeting that Canada hopes will lead to justice and financial compensation for the families of the victims of Iran’s shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne arrives in London later today for a meeting Thursday of the International Co-ordination and Response Group for families of victims of Flight PS752, which Iran downed last week killing all 176 people on board, including 57 Canadians and 82 Iranians.

The Canadian Press has independently confirmed at least 89 victims with ties to Canada, many of them students and professors returning after spending the December break visiting relatives in Iran.

The meeting at the Canadian High Commission will include representatives of Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and Britain and is being billed by Ottawa as a step towards “closure, accountability, transparency and justice _ including compensation _ for the families and loved ones of the victims.’’

As attendees gathered, Canada demanded official status in Iran’s investigation of the crash.

In a news conference in Ottawa, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said two Canadian investigators are in Iran as part of an international team and have been getting good co-operation, but he wants their participation in the probe formalized.

“We will not accept a situation where we are not being given the information we are looking for,’’ Garneau said.

Banafsheh Taherian from Tirgan wipes a tear during a memorial organized by the Iranian-Canadian charity Tirgan for the victims of the Iranian air crash, in Toronto, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

He said the plane’s “black boxes’’ are in Iranian hands and another two investigators are ready to go wherever and whenever the recorders are examined. He said he has seen a video recording _ publicized by the New York Times _ showing what appear to be two separate missiles targeting the plane, not just one, and that’s exactly the kind of detail that the investigation must examine.

After denying for days that it shot down the passenger plane, Iran’s leaders apologized and admitted what they said was a mistake, striking a conciliatory tone. That shifted on Wednesday when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said European soldiers in the Middle East “could be in danger’’ as a result of Tuesday’s decision by Britain, France and Germany to trigger a section of their 2015 nuclear agreement that could bring back European sanctions against Iran.

Prior to travelling to London, Champagne issued a statement supporting the European decision and called on Iran to “restore its full commitments’’ to the deal.

“Canada strongly supports the diplomatic engagement of France, Germany and the United Kingdom in pressing Iran to respect its commitments under the agreement,’’ Champagne said, noting that Canada is a “lead contributor’’ to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency’s role in monitoring Iran’s compliance.

Garneau said the argument over the nuclear deal won’t affect the countries whose representatives are meeting to talk about the crash. The fate of the 2015 nuclear deal has been intertwined with the chain of events that led to last week’s downing of the Ukrainian International Airlines plane by one, perhaps two Iranian surface-to-air missiles.

In 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal _ signed by the Obama administration, Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council _ designed to prevent Iran from enriching enough uranium to produce an atomic bomb. Trump started a campaign of “maximum pressure’’ to force Iran to renegotiate a better deal, but that hasn’t happened.

On Jan. 3, Trump approved the drone attack that killed Iran’s Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

On Jan. 5, Iran said it would no longer abide by the nuclear deal’s limits on the production of bomb-making material, but would still allow the UN to inspect nuclear facilities.