Canada report makes no sense: deputy FM

June 29, 2021 - 21:31

TEHRAN – Diplomatic tensions between Iran and Canada run high with a recent investigative Canadian report on a 2020 Ukrainian plane crash on the outskirts of the Iranian capital being the latest in a string of differences between the two countries. A senior Iranian diplomat told the Tehran Times that this report bears no legal meaning. 

Ever since the Ukrainian passenger plane was mistakenly shot down by Iranian military forces in a highly charged confrontational atmosphere between Tehran and Washington in early 2020, relations between Iran and Canada have been constantly worsening as large swaths of passengers aboard that plane were holding Canadian citizenship.

Iran announced that it accidentally shot down the Ukrainian plane a few days after the incident, forming an investigation team that worked hand in glove with several concerned countries to get to the bottom of what happened on that tense night. The investigation team concluded that the plane was brought down due to a human error, prompting the Iranian government to offer compensation sums much more than what is usually being paid to families of victims of similar incidents, according to Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Mohsen Baharvand.

In a lengthy interview with the Tehran Times which will soon be published in full, Baharvand said the usual compensation sum for victims of aviation accidents is something around $20,000 but Iran offered each victim of the Ukrainian plane, regardless of their age, gender, or nationality, a lump sum of $150,0000. Baharvad noted that some of the victims’ families have already received their share of compensation. 

Iran also cooperated with Ukraine, a country that owns the crashed plane, to investigate the issue. Canada, as the advisor of Ukraine in this case, also played a part in the investigation. But all this seems to be of no avail in terms of getting Canada to respect Iran’s independent investigation.

The Canadian government has managed to launch its independent investigation into the plane crash while leveling accusations against Iran from time to time. The result of the investigation has recently been published, underlining that there was no evidence that Iran intentionally shot down the Ukrainian jet.

However, the Canadian government leveled trenchant criticism against Iran, holding it responsible for the downing of the passenger plane despite the fact that its own report on the issue admittedly said there was no evidence to prove that Iran intentionally downed the Ukrainian jet. 

The government of Canada’s report entitled “The Downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752: Factual Analysis” confirmed earlier Iranian assessment that there is no evidence that the downing of the plane was “premeditated.” Despite its admission about the lack of evidence about Iranian premeditation, the Canadian government’s report claimed that Iranian civil and military authorities are “fully responsible” for the crash of the Ukrainian plane.

Following the issuance of the Canadian report, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marc Garneau, and the Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra, put out a joint statement mounting a blistering attack on “Iranian civilian and military authorities,” accusing them of “recklessness, incompetence, and wanton disregard for human life,” and holding them “fully responsible for the downing of Flight PS752.”

“The report was produced by the Canadian Forensic Examination and Assessment Team, led by former CSIS Deputy Director Jeff Yaworski. The government established the Forensic Team in October 2020 and mandated it to compile and analyze all available information about Flight PS752. This work is part of Canada’s broader efforts to uncover the truth about what happened and hold the perpetrators to account,” the joint statement said.

It also raised questions about a decision by Iran to keep its airspace open during tit-for-tat strikes between Iran and the U.S., which started after the latter attacked the convoy of top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad’s Airport in early 2020. 

The Canadian report castigated Iran for not “implementing basic protections like closing the airspace over Tehran or notifying airlines.” The joint statement added, “All planes flying into or out of Tehran’s airport that night were at risk, including four civilian flights that took off immediately before Flight PS752 with hundreds of passengers on board going to major international hubs.”

In addition, the statement also accused Iran of covering up the evidence regarding the plane crash. “Iran must also account for the cover-up that followed the downing of Flight PS752, including bulldozing the crash site before investigators arrived,” it claimed. 

The Tehran Times reached out to Baharvand, who is in charge of negotiations with Ukraine over its plane, to hear his response to these Canadian allegations. 

Baharvand offered a legal answer to a question on why Iran did not close its airspace. He said experts may have technical reservations on his view, but from a legal standpoint, Iran did not have a commitment to close the airspace, and thus closing it is more of a precautionary measure than a commitment. 

“First, closing the airspace is not a commitment. It’s just a precautionary measure. You don’t see anywhere in the world that a country involved in a conflict is obliged to close its airspace. This doesn’t happen. This is not a commitment that must be bindingly met,” Baharvand told the Tehran Times, adding, “Second, our conflict zone, where we were in conflict with America, i.e. the Ain al-Assad airbase, was at a distance of 700-800 kilometers from Tehran. No one thought that an incident would happen to a passenger plane. Besides, Iran’s airspace was really clear at that time. If you look at the air traffic of the time, you don’t see many civilian planes flying over Tehran.”

The senior Iranian diplomat also put a share of the blame on the Ukrainian airliner. He said airways are responsible for conducting part of the risk assessment of flights. This means that risk assessment is not exclusively a duty of governments, Baharvand said, noting that during the drama of early January 2020, British Airways refused to fly over Iran and chose to reroute their flights through Iraq due to their risk assessment. 

Baharvand concluded that the downing of the Ukrainian plane was not intentional. A few minutes before this plane’s takeoff, a number of passenger planes successfully took off and safely continued their flights, he continued. But five minutes before the Ukrainian airliner took off, the deputy foreign minister said, the mobile air defense system unit deployed nearby moved to another place, causing a disruption of co-ordinates, which, in turn, led to a failure in identifying the civilian plane.

The Iranian diplomat said the Canadian report does not make sense legally as Canada is not in a position to independently conduct an investigation into a matter falling under Iran’s sovereign right to investigate.

In addition to discussions surrounding the Ukrainian plane, Baharvand touched on the longstanding differences between Tehran and Ottawa, saying that tensions between the two precede the plane issue. He pointed to a Canadian decision to seize properties belonging to the Iranian government in Canada as an instance, underlining that Canada had no legal rights to seize properties owned by the Iranian government in accordance with state sovereign rights. No other country all over the world, except the U.S., has done what Canada did with Iranian state properties, Baharvand asserted, hinting that a resumption of ties with Canada hinged on restoring the ownership of these properties to the Iranian government.

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