This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says his country expects a full probe, a full admission of guilt, and compensation from Iran after Tehran admitted, after days of denial, it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 aboard.
“We expect from Iran assurances of their readiness for a full and open investigation, bringing those responsible to justice, the return of the bodies of the dead, the payment of compensation, official apologies through diplomatic channels,” he added.
Zelenskiy spoke later in the day by phone with Iranian President Hassan Rohani. Zelenskiy’s press office said Rohani admitted during the call that Iran’s military mistakenly shot down the plane.
Rohani apologized for the tragedy and promised that those responsible would be held accountable, Zelenskiy’s press service said. The two also discussed Iranian compensation to the victims.
The Ukrainian president called Iran’s admission of guilt “a step in the right direction” and insisted Tehran complete the identification of the bodies and return them to Ukraine.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk’s office said Ukraine would pay families of the victims 200,000 hryvnyas ($8,400) each and help them collect compensation from Iran, the airline, and insurance companies.
Iran state TV earlier on January 11 quoted the military as saying the plane was shot down after it was mistaken for a “hostile target” when it turned toward a “sensitive military center” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
It added that the military was at its “highest level of readiness” amid raised tensions with the United States.
The statement also said those responsible for the tragedy, which killed all aboard the plane, would “immediately” be brought to justice.
IRGC commander Amirali Hajizadeh said later in an address broadcast by state TV that his IRGC aerospace unit accepted “full responsibility” for the downing.
Hajizadeh said the antiaircraft officer had little time to decide whether or not to fire. “He had 10 seconds to make a decision, and he could either strike or not strike. Under these conditions, unfortunately, he made a bad decision and the missile was fired,” Hajizadeh said.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed his “deep sympathy” to the families of the 176 victims, and called on the armed forces to “pursue probable shortcomings and guilt in the painful incident.”
President Rohani on Twitter called the incident a “great tragedy & unforgivable mistake.”
He wrote that the military’s “internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people.”
In a telephone call earlier on January 11 with Emmanuel Macron, Zelenskiy and the French president agreed that French specialists would help decode the plane’s black boxes, Zelenskiy’s office said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Honcharuk said in a January 11 post on Facebook that Iran’s admission of shooting down the Ukrainian passenger jet did not mean the investigation into the tragedy was over.
The admission “is an important step in the investigation process, which is still ongoing,” he said.
Germany’s foreign minister also welcomed Tehran’s decision to admit it had accidentally shot down the plane.
“It’s important that Iran has brought clarity. Now it should take the appropriate measures in the further investigation of this horrible catastrophe so that something like this cannot happen again,” Heiko Maas told German media on January 11.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the incident occurred “at a time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism.”
“A sad day. Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces: Human error at time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism led to disaster,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
Armed Forces’ internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people.
Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake. #PS752
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 11, 2020
“Our profound regrets, apologies, and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”
Until the admission, Tehran had vehemently denied allegations by Western leaders and experts that evidence indicated an Iranian missile had brought down the plane.
The Ukraine International Airlines flight was en route to Kyiv from Tehran on January 8 carrying at least 57 Canadians, 82 Iranians, 10 Swedes, 10 Afghans, three Germans, and three Britons. Eleven Ukrainians — two passengers and nine crew — were also killed.
Yevheniy Dykhne, president of UIA, told a news conference in Kyiv on January 11 that the airline received no warnings before the plane took off.
“At the time of the [flight’s] departure from [Kyiv’s] Borispol Airport our air company had no information about potential threats — just as exactly the same way at the time of its departure from the airport in Tehran our air company had no information, and no decisions by responsible administrations have been provided to us,” Dykhne said.
The Iranian statement came as the West had turned up the heat on Tehran, with the United States saying it was “likely” that an Iranian missile had shot down the craft and vowing to “take appropriate action in response.”
Separately, Canada’s foreign minister on January 10 announced the formation of an international working group of countries to press Iran for a thorough investigation into the crash, which counted 57 Canadians among the dead, a figure revised down from an earlier death toll of 63.
Initial reports blamed a technical malfunction, but doubts were quickly raised as evidence, including videos, appeared to indicate a missile attack.
The air disaster came hours after Iran targeted two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops with missiles on January 8 in response to a January 3 U.S. air strike that killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.
That led many experts to suspect Iranian antiaircraft batteries mistook the airliner for a U.S. warplane on a retaliatory mission over Tehran.