Tehran: Iran on Friday denied Western allegations a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed outside Tehran was brought down by an Iranian missile and called on the U.S. and Canada to share any information they have on the crash, which killed all 176 people on board.
Western leaders said the plane appeared to have been unintentionally hit by a surface-to-air missile near Tehran, just hours after Iran launched a series of ballistic missiles at two U.S. bases in Iraq to avenge the killing of its top general in an American airstrike last week.
“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, told a press conference.
“If they are really sure, they should come and show their findings to the world” in accordance with international standards, he added.
Hassan Rezaeifar, the head of Iranian investigation team on Friday told the same press conference that recovering data from the black box flight recorders could take more than a month and that the entire investigation could stretch into next year.
He also said Iran may request help from international experts if it is not able to extract the flight recordings.
The ballistic missile attack on the bases in Iraq caused no casualties, raising hopes that the standoff over the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani would end relatively peacefully, though 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 Friday, 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.