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Tehran says ‘no plan’ to send downed plane’s black boxes to Ukraine

Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani during Third GECF summit, May 24, 2015. (Hamed Malekpour/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

As the coffins of the 11 Ukrainians who were killed when Iran’s military mistakenly shot down a passenger airliner in Tehran arrived in Kyiv on January 19, the lead Iranian investigator into the tragedy said Iran wouldn’t send the flight recorders abroad for analysis.

Hassan Rezaifer was quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency as saying “the flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out.”

Meanwhile, Canada on January 19 made another request for Tehran to immediately transfer the black boxes to either France or Ukraine.

“I repeated Canada’s position that the black boxes be sent as quickly as possible either to Ukraine or France so it can be done somewhere [where] the expertise exists and it can be done in a transparent manner,” Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said after he spoke with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

However, Rezaifer said Iran is still working with the flight recorders and that they may be sent to Ukraine or France.

“But as of yet, we have made no decision,” he said.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk, and other senior Ukrainian officials participated in a solemn ceremony after the 11 flag-draped coffins arrived carrying the bodies of nine Ukraine International Airlines crew members and two passengers killed along with 165 other people when Flight PS752 went down on January 8.

Iranian officials have said that air defenses on high alert during heightened tensions after Iranian missile strikes made an error and fired antiaircraft missiles at the Boeing 737-800.

Ukrainians and officials from the four other countries that lost nationals in the disaster have demanded a “thorough, independent, and transparent” investigation.

Rezaifer had been quoted by the Tasnim news agency as saying on January 18 that French, American, and Canadian experts would work with the equipment after it was sent to Kyiv because Iranian authorities had been unable to read the black-box data.

“If this effort is unsuccessful, then the black box will be sent to France,” he had added, according to Tasnim.

Senior Iranian officials called for punishment of those responsible after air-defense forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) shot down the plane.

Joint Statement

The foreign ministers of Afghanistan, Britain, Canada, Sweden, and Ukraine issued a joint statement after a meeting in London on January 17 to pressure Iran to give a full accounting.

Most of the victims on the flight were Iranians or dual citizens, many of them students returning to studies abroad or families returning home after visiting relatives in Iran.

The incident came shortly after Iran launched missiles at military bases in Iraq that hosted U.S. forces, in an attack that was a response to a January 3 U.S. air strike that killed top Iranian military commander Major General Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad’s international airport.

After initially denying it shot down the plane, Tehran eventually admitted that its forces “unintentionally” struck the airliner with a missile after it said it veered toward a sensitive military site.

Thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest their government’s actions, prompting public calls for punishment of the individuals responsible for the mistake.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for national unity and defended the country’s armed forces in a rare sermon at Tehran’s Mosalla Mosque on January 17.

He accused Iran’s enemies of using the plane crash to question the Islamic republic, the armed forces, and the IRGC, which he said “maintained the security” of Iran.