Grieving nations demand full Iran co-operation over downed jet

Tehran has to take the lead in offering compensation and repatriating the dead, say foreign ministers of five nations

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The foreign ministers of five nations whose citizens died when the Iranian military shot down a passenger jet demanded full and continuing cooperation from Iran and insisted it took the first step in offering compensation.

Canada’s Francois-Philippe Champagne set out five key areas where Iran had to cooperate including full and unhindered access for officials to Iran and a thorough, independent and transparent international investigation into how the Boeing 737 jet was brought down.

“The international community is watching,” said Mr Champagne following talks in London with counterparts from Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and the UK.

“We take as a first positive step the fact that Iran admitted full responsibility and from that flows consequences. We expect and demand full co-operation from the Iranian authorities.”

Iran admitted on Saturday that it had shot down the Ukraine International Airlines with the loss of all 176 passengers and crew. They included more than 80 Iranians, at least 57 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians and 10 from Sweden.

The ministers said that they expected continued co-operation from Iran for months and even years to resolve all the issues that resulted from the downing of flight PS752.

The ministers called for the identification of victims to be conducted with “dignity” and that Tehran respected the wishes of all the families. Mr Champagne said that Iran had complied with some of the earliest requests from the families but said it had to continue.

"Families want answers, the international community wants answers, the world is waiting for answers and we will not rest until we get them," he said.

The issue of compensation remains one of the most difficult issues. Sanctions and Iran’s status as a pariah nation locked out of the global financial system potential stumbling blocks in the way of swift payment.

Mourners gather during a vigil for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Saturday said he was “outraged” and “furious” by the shooting down of the plane. At least 57 Canadians were among the dead. Photographer: Taehoon Kim/Bloomberg
Mourners gather during a vigil for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Bloomberg

Mr Champagne told reporters that it was Iran’s responsibility to begin talks that would result in a fair financial settlement.

“Compensation flows directly from the full admission of responsibility from the Iranian government,” said Mr Champagne. “We expect them to undertake discussions with the grieving nations with respect to compensation.”

Mr Champagne did not directly address what actions that the five nations could take if Iran failed to fulfil its obligations. “I think Iran has a choice – the world is watching.”

Before taking part in the meeting, Ann Linde, the Swedish foreign minister, told the BBC she was “worried that these words in the beginning after the crash … will not be followed by deed”.

The meeting came after Mr Champagne led his counterparts in lighting candles to commemorate the victims in front of a plaque on the wall at Canada House in London listing the names of the victims.

Stef Blok, the Dutch foreign minister, also joined the talks to detail the lessons learned from the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Nearly 200 Dutch citizens died in that crash.

Iran has apologised for the “unforgiveable error” that brought down the plane and has promised to prosecute those responsible. The five nations said any proceedings that followed from a criminal investigation should conform to “international standards of due process and human rights”.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne  addresses a press conference after a meeting of the International Coordination and Response Group to discuss the shooting down of an Ukrainian plane in Iran, at the High Commission of Canada in London, on January 16, 2020.  / AFP / Tolga AKMEN
Francois-Philippe Champagne called for accountability, transparency and justice after a meeting of foreign ministers in London. AFP

Iran’s admission of responsibility came after several days of denials and an apparent attempted cover-up when wreckage was seen being cleared from site of the crash minutes after take-off over Tehran on January 8.

Most of those on board were Iranians or dual citizens, many of them students returning to their studies abroad.

Stuart Newberger, a US lawyer and specialist in securing compensation for acts of international terrorism, told The National that he expected Iran to agree payments with the governments of the five nations.

He cited the precedent of the US paying Iran $62 million in compensation for the 248 Iranians killed in 1988 when a US navy cruiser mistakenly shot down an Iran Air jet.