International

IRAN ADMITS DOWNING JETLINER, SPARKING GLOBAL ANGER AND PROTESTS

  • Iranian armed forces promise ‘culprits’ will be identified
  • Ukraine’s Zelenskiy, Canada’s Trudeau want better answers

By Yasna Haghdoost, Arsalan Shahla, and Aoyon Ashraf

Jan 13 (Bloomberg) – Iran said it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner it mistook for a cruise missile, a dramatic reversal that triggered international condemnation and protests in the streets of Tehran that in turn drew support from U.S. President Donald Trump.

“We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage,” Trump said Saturday in a tweet posted in Farsi and English.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier said he was “outraged” and “furious” by the admission that Iran had shot down Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752. At least 57 Canadians were among the 176 people killed.

“What Iran hasadmitted to is very serious. Shooting down a civilian aircraft is horrific. Iran must take full responsibility,” Trudeau said Saturday at a press briefing in Ottawa. He earlier declared the incident a national tragedy.

Black Boxes

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a televised address that he wants a full admission of guilt by Iran for what authorities there called a “disastrous mistake.”

Ukraine and Iran will work jointly to decode the black boxes of the doomed Ukrainian Boeing jet, Zelenskiy said. The Ukrainian government will make payments to the families of each of those who died in the crash, he said.

“I urge all international partners of Ukraine, the entire world community, to be united and to keep pressing until the full and final investigation into all the circumstances of this catastrophe is delivered,” said Zelenskiy.

Trudeau and his British counterpart Boris Johnson earlier called for justice for the victims, and signaled that the disaster reinforced the need for a de-escalation of hostilities in the Gulf region.

A senior Trump administration official, who declined to be identified, said the tragedy showed Iran’s “reckless actions have again had devastating consequences.”

Truth Will Out

“The morning was not good today but it brought the truth,” Zelenskiy said after Iran’s announcement. He urged Iran to take action against those responsible, and pay compensation. “We hope further investigations will be done without artificial delays and obstacles,” he said.

The government’s admission that Iran’s security forces hold ultimate responsibility for the downing of the plane — albeit at a time of conflict with their chief foe — is a further blow for the country’s ruling clerics at a time when the economy has been devastated by U.S. sanctions.

“Even in a moment of heightened tension this should never have happened,” Trudeau said. “Canada will not rest until we get the accountability, justice, and closure that the families deserve.”

The admission could dent the sense of national unity that built after the Jan. 3 killing by the U.S. of Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani — a hero to many Iranians for his work in Iraq and Syria helping to defeat Islamic State.

The three-year-old Boeing Co. 737-800 was shot down about two minutes after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday. The tragedy occurred hours after Iran started launching rockets against Iraqi bases where U.S. forces are stationed, in retaliation for Soleimani’s targeted killing.

Nearly half the victims were Iranians, while many of the other passengers, including citizens of Canada, Sweden and the U.K., were of Iranian descent, a reflection of the ambition that pushes thousands to leave Iran each year to work and study in the West.

Student Protests

A large crowd of students assembled outside Amir Kabir University in downtown Tehran late Saturday for a candlelight vigil, according to witnesses, before starting chants of “death to the dictator” and “resignation is not enough, a trial is needed!” Security forces intervened.

Others used social media to vent their anger, contrasting the plane deaths with reports that the attack on the Iraqi bases was specifically designed not to injure Americans.

“You feared hitting Americans, but you’re hitting students and ordinary people. In front of the world you turned to mice before a nation of lions. You’re liars who lack everything,” said one Twitter user.

Trump demanded that human rights groups be allowed to monitor and report on the ongoing protests in Iran without obstruction, noting “The world is watching.”

The U.K. Ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, was “briefly detained” by Iranian authorities on Saturday, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

“The arrest of our Ambassador in Tehran without grounds or explanation is a flagrant violation of international law,” Raab said in a statement. “The Iranian government is at a cross-roads moment. It can continue its march towards pariah status with all the political and economic isolation that entails, or take steps to deescalate tensions and engage in a diplomatic path forwards.”

Macaire attended an event that had been advertised as a vigil at Amir Kabir University for the victims of the plane crash, according to the Telegraph. He and another member of the embassy staff left once the vigil turned into a protest. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the action was a violation of the Vienna Convention, which ensures immunity and privileges for foreign diplomats.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, offered his condolences to the victims of the Ukrainian flight, while President Hassan Rouhani said the Islamic Republic “deeply regrets the disastrous mistake” and vowed compensation for the families of victims.

The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps‘s aerospace force, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, blamed the tragedy on a communications failure. The operative who first mistakenly identified the plane as an incoming missile failed to get a second opinion due to a “disturbance” and had only 10 seconds to make a decision, he said. The army had previously said that “culprits” would be turned over to judicial authorities.

“When I was certain that this incident had occurred, I truly wished death upon myself, because I’d rather have died than witness such an incident,” Hajizadeh said in a briefing Saturday in Tehran.

American sanctions, particularly those aimed at stopping Iran’s critical oil sales, have pushed the Iranian economy into a slump, prompting Rouhani to accuse the U.S. of waging “economic war” against his country. The U.S. added new penalties on Friday following the attack on the Iraqi bases.

As recently as Friday, Iran denied that it had fired a missile at the plane and accused western governments of “psychological warfare.”

The plane appeared to fly on a normal path to the northwest of the airport on the same heading as the runway from which it departed, according to the flight-tracking service FlightRadar24. There are no obvious military sites visible on satellite photos of the plane’s flight path.

The U.S. and Iran have stepped back from the brink of further military conflict following the killing of Soleimani and Tehran’s retaliation, but Iran’s leaders have so far shown no sign of interest in Trump’s call for talks.

European nations have vowed to stand by the nuclear agreement under assault by Trump’s administration, but they have so far failed to deliver meaningful ways of allowing trade and crucially oil sales. NW

— With assistance by Alan Levin, Siraj Datoo, John Harney, Jon Morgan, and Daryna Krasnolutska

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