Iran on Friday urged American and Canadian investigators to share any information they have on the crash of a Ukrainian passenger jet, which killed all 176 people on board, while again rejecting any suggestion it was brought down by one of its own missiles.
“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 in Tehran. “If they are really sure, they should come and show their findings to the world” in accordance with international standards, he added.
Abedzadeh’s comments came as Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko tweeted that he and President Volodymyr Zelensky met with U.S. Embassy officials and obtained “important data” about the crash. Prystaiko didn’t specify what kind of data it was.
One of Iran’s most senior diplomats in Europe meanwhile disputed a suggestion from a journalist that the Ukraine International Airlines crash site outside Tehran had “no security,” “was not cordoned off” and that there was “no sign of any investigators.”
Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, told USA TODAY after a briefing with reporters here that it wasn’t true, as CBS News’ senior foreign correspondent Elizabeth Palmer tweeted that the crash site was not being protected for investigators and that local “scavengers (were) now picking the site clean.”
The allegation is a worrying one in light of the fact U.S intelligence officials believe Iran may have mistakenly shot down the commercial airliner with a missile, killing 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British nationals.
Iran vehemently disputes shooting the plane down and said its initial findings indicated the plane crashed as a result of a technical fault. Palmer, who is in Iran, was able to briefly visit the crash site Friday before being chased away by Iranian officials.
Ukraine’s airlines crashed just hours after Iran fired ballistic missiles at two U.S. military based in Iraq. That assault came in retaliation for the Pentagon’s killing in a drone strike of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran’s most senior and revered military commanders.
Video has emerged online that appears to show a plane near Tehran being hit with a projectile of some kind, but no conclusive evidence has been released.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that the plane’s “black box,” which records data from the flight and voices from the cockpit, would be opened on Friday, although it said the process of downloading the information could take up to two months.
Baeidinejad said in the briefing that Iran was “fully committed to participating in an international investigation that meets the highest international standards.” He also cautioned that the issue “should avoid being politicized” because it was harmful to the friends and family members of those who died in the crash near Tehran’s airport.
Tehran and Washington are deeply suspicious of one another after decades of animosity and tensions have increased since the Trump administration pulled out of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and reimposed economic sanctions.
Baeidinejad appeared to indicate in the briefing in London that American officials from the National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB), a U.S. government agency, would travel to Iran to participate in the crash investigation. However, there has been no independent confirmation from the NTSB, the U.S. State Department or the White House that such a move would take place.