Nations of Iran crash victims seek compensation for families

LONDON (AP) — The governments of five countries that lost citizens when Iran shot down a Ukrainian airliner demanded Thursday that Tehran accept “full responsibility” and pay compensation to the victims’ families — though they had little to offer besides moral pressure to get Iran to comply.

After a meeting in London, foreign ministers from Canada, the U.K., Afghanistan, Sweden and Ukraine urged Iran to allow a “thorough, independent and transparent international investigation,” as well as a criminal probe and “impartial” judicial proceedings against those found responsible for downing the plane.

All 176 people aboard the Ukraine International Airlines aircraft died when it was brought down by ballistic missiles shortly after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on Jan. 8.

The victims included 57 Canadian citizens as well as 11 Ukrainians, 17 people from Sweden, four Afghans and four British citizens, as well as Iranians.

“We are here to pursue closure, accountability, transparency and justice” for the victims, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said after meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko, Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Ann Linde, Afghan Acting Foreign Minister Idrees Zaman, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and U.K. Middle East Minister Andrew Murrison..

Before the meeting at the Canadian High Commission, ministers from the five nations lit candles at a vigil in memory of the dead passengers and crew members.

Iran initially blamed a technical fault for the plane crash, before acknowledging in the face of mounting evidence that its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard had accidentally brought down the jetliner.

Champagne said it was a “good first step” that Iran had accepted responsibility.

“From that admission obviously flow consequences,” he said, including the need to pay compensation.

In keeping with international norms. Iran has invited Ukraine, Canada, the United States and France to take part in the crash investigation. The Boeing 737 was built in the United States and the engine was built by a U.S.-French consortium. But it’s unclear whether Iran will share all key details or give the countries’ experts full access.

Canada — which doesn’t have an embassy in Iran — has demanded official status in the investigation. Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Wednesday that two Canadian investigators were in Iran as part of an international team and had good co-operation, but Garneau wants their participation in the probe formalized.

Garneau said the plane’s voice and flight data recorders are in Iranian hands, but another two Canadian investigators are ready to go wherever and whenever they are examined.

Champagne said Canada, the other four affected nations and the Netherlands, which lost almost 200 citizens when a Malaysian airliner flying from Amsterdam was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, had offered to provide expertise to the investigation. He urged Iran to accept and to allow full access for the countries’ consular officials.

He said discussions were underway with Tehran on allowing international experts to participate in identifying the victims’ remains.

Asked what pressure could be applied if Iran did not cooperate, Champagne said: “It’s called the international community.”

“Iran has a choice, and the world is watching,” Champagne said.

The downing of the plane came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States over the killing of Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike. Iran fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops in retaliation for his death.

American allies have avoided blaming the Trump administration, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the crash victims would be alive today if tensions had not escalated in the region.

“If there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families. This is something that happens when you have conflict and the war. Innocents bear the brunt of it,” Trudeau told Global News Television this week.