The West turned up the heat on Iran over the crash of a Ukrainian airliner outside of Tehran, with the United States saying it is “likely” that an Iranian missile shot down the craft and vowing to “take appropriate action in response.”
Meanwhile, 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.
All 176 on board the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) flight were killed when it crashed shortly after takeoff from the Tehran airport en route to Kyiv.
Initial reports blamed a technical malfunction, but Western leaders and experts say they are increasingly convinced based on intelligence information that it was shot down by an Iranian missile, likely by mistake.
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. drone 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.
Iran has vehemently denied one of its missiles shot down the plane, saying it was an “impossible” suggestion.
“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 news conference.
“If they [Western leaders] are really sure, they should come and show their findings to the world" in accordance with international standards, he added.
U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo on January 10 said that “we do believe it is likely that that plane was shot down by an Iranian missile," echoing remarks by Canadian and British officials.
Pompeo said a probe into the incident would continue and that, when it is completed, he was “confident that we and the world will take appropriate action as a response."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that "we have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence.”
“The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said.
Western intelligence services may be reluctant to share information on a strike because it comes from highly classified sources.
Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Canada has formed a coordination group with Britain, Ukraine, Sweden, and Afghanistan to help families of victims.
Many of the Canadians killed were from the country’s large Iranian community. Other victims were initially listed as 82 Iranians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans, and three Britons. There were also 11 Ukrainians on board, including nine crew.
Champagne said Iran has granted Canada just two visas for government officials. But he expects more will be approved soon so that Canada's Transportation Safety Board can participate in the investigation.
Iran has also invited experts from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and Boeing, along with representatives from France, Britain, and Ukraine, but it is uncertain as to the level of access they will have.
Many Western experts expressed concerns that the probe may already have been compromised by the removal of wreckage from the crash site.
West Ramps Up Pressure On Iran Over Crash Probe