General view of the debris of the Ukraine International Airlines, flight PS752, Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed after take-off from Iran's Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran Jan. 8, 2020 is seen in this screen grab obtained from a social media video via (REUTERS)

Iran approves 2 visas as Canada seeks more access to air crash investigation

Iranian authorities have approved two visas for Canadian diplomats and air crash investigators standing by in Ankara, as they wait for Iran’s permission to travel to Tehran following Wednesday’s deadly Ukraine International Airlines crash that killed 63 Canadians, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Friday.

“Representatives from Global Affairs Canada’s Standing Rapid Deployment Team and the Transportation Safety Board are currently stationed in Ankara. To date, Iran has granted us two visas,” Champagne tweeted Friday.

“We are hoping the other visas will be approved soon so that we may begin to provide consular services, to help in the identification of victims and to participate in any investigation.”

Most of the 176 passengers on the Kyiv-bound flight PS752, which crashed minutes after takeoff from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport killing everyone on board, were connecting to Canada, according to Trudeau.

There were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians on board, along with 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British citizens, according to Ukrainian officials.

‘Shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile’

General view of the debris of the Ukraine International Airlines, flight PS752, Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed after take-off from Iran’s Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran Jan. 8, 2020 is seen in this screen grab obtained from a social media video (REUTERS)

The Canadian government believes that the Ukrainian Boeing 737-800 was inadvertently shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday, calling for “a full and complete and credible investigation to establish exactly what happened.”

“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence,” he said during a news conference in Ottawa. “The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.”

Trudeau added that the strike “may well have been unintentional.”

Canada’s efforts to offer consular services to the families of the victims and monitor the investigation are hampered by the fact that Ottawa cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2012 and shuttered its embassy in Iran.

Champagne said he spoke with Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in an early morning telephone call on Thursday to press him to grant Canadian officials immediate access to Iran in order to provide consular services, identify the victims and participate in a thorough investigation.

Champagne said Zarif seemed open to Canada’s request for urgent visas for Canadian officials.

However, at the time of their conversation, Canada had not yet accused Iranian authorities of unintentionally shooting down the passenger plane, Champagne said during a joint press conference in Montreal with his British counterpart Dominic Raab.

Support from allies

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announce new sanctions on Iran in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., Jan. 10, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS)

The crash of the 3½-year-old Boeing 737-800 came just hours after Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi bases housing American and allied troops in retaliation for the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad earlier.

“Canada is working with its allies to ensure that an in-depth investigation is conducted so that we can uncover causes of this tragic crash,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau has refused to elaborate on the intelligence that led Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. to conclude that the doomed Ukrainian airliner was brought down by a missile.

On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the highest-level U.S. official to directly pin the blame on Iran.

“We do believe it is likely that that plane was shot down by an Iranian missile,” he said.

Ukraine caught between a rock and a hard place

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy lays flowers to commemorate victims of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane crash, at a memorial in Boryspil International airport outside Kiev, Ukraine Jan. 9, 2020. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS) ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. – RC26CE9U0BYK

Trudeau spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday for the second time in as many days.

The two leaders agreed to push for an objective investigation into the crash, Zelenskiy said Friday after speaking with Trudeau.

“There should not be speculation about the tragedy; Ukraine and Canada will use all possible means to advocate for an objective and comprehensive investigation,” Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter.

Zelenskiy also spoke with Pompeo on Friday and tweeted “information obtained from the U.S. will assist in the investigation.”

Ukraine has dispatched 45 experts from various agencies to take part in the investigation on the ground in Iran.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said Iran was co-operating with the investigation, and that Kyiv was not yet ruling out any version of what might have happened.

Prystaiko was more guarded and said Ukraine did not want to come to conclusions yet about what caused the crash. However, Ukraine’s state security chief, Ivan Bakanov, said he was prioritizing two versions of what might have caused the crash: a missile or terrorism.

Iran denies Canada’s allegations

Red Crescent workers check plastic bags at the site where the Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed after take-off from Iran’s Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran Jan. 8, 2020. (Nazanin Tabatabaee/West Asia News Agency via REUTERS)

Earlier Friday, Iran denied Western allegations that one of its own missiles downed the jetliner.

“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.

Under rules of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as Chicago Convention, Iran as the country where the incident occurred is “responsible for the conduct of the investigation.”

In addition, Ukraine, which operated the aircraft, and the U.S., which designed and manufactured it, are also entitled to appoint an accredited representative to take part in an investigation.

Canada, as a state, which has a “special interest” in the accident by virtue of the number of its citizens involved in or impacted by it, is also entitled to appoint an expert to the accident investigation, according to the convention.

These special interest state experts are entitled to visit the scene of the accident; have access to the factual information released by the investigating authorities; and receive a copy of the accident investigation final report.

However, these so-called Annex 13 investigations do not apportion blame or liability, their sole purpose is to generate safety data and information to aid with the prevention of future and similar accidents or incidents.

With files from The Associated Press

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