Iran called on Western governments to prove claims the Boeing Co. 737-800 passenger jet that crashed near Tehran on Wednesday was shot down, intensifying a standoff that could complicate an already difficult investigation fraught with geopolitical hurdles.
Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, told a televised news conference he was “certain that no missiles hit the aircraft” and that Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 wasn’t shot down, building on earlier government denials.
“If they are certain and have the courage, they should share any finding that has scientific and technical backing,” said Abedzadeh Friday.
Iran accused Western governments of “psychological warfare” in claiming the jet came under fire.
Intelligence from multiple sources, including Canada’s allies, “indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday. “This may well have been unintentional.”
Two surface-to-air missile launches were detected by a U.S. spy satellite from an Iranian battery near the airport minutes after the jet took off, followed by an explosion near the plane, said a person familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Russian-made SA-15 missile, also known as a Gauntlet or a Tor, is suspected of being involved. They are short-range weapons designed to attack planes, helicopters and other airborne targets.
The Washington Post obtained a video that allegedly shows the moment the airliner was struck in midair. The video, first published by the New York Times, purportedly shows a missile intercepting the aircraft near the city of Parand, followed by a loud boom.
But Abedzadeh said that video “cannot be confirmed.”
The crash, which killed all 176 people on board, comes at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran, whose economy has been crippled by sanctions. The U.S. Friday announced a fresh wave of sanctions against the Iranian regime, and took action against eight Iranian officials who they said were involved in Tuesday’s ballistic missile strikes on an American base in Iraq — strikes which came just hours before the airliner went down. The sanctions target steel, aluminum, copper and iron, and sectors of the economy such as construction, manufacturing, textiles and mining.
Asked if he believed Iran shot it down the plane with a missile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Friday reiterated the U.S. line that “we do believe that it is likely.”
Raising concern that the investigation into the crash might be compromised, a crew of U.S. broadcaster CBS found the impact site unguarded and unsecured, with virtually all pieces of the plane cleared away and scavengers picking the location clean of remaining debris.
On Sky News on Friday, the Iranian ambassador to Britain denied Friday reports that Iran had bulldozed the site. Taking to Twitter after his appearance, Hamid Baeidinejad said such reports were “absolutely absurd.”
Iran has said it invited Boeing and investigators from foreign countries including Canada to assist in the probe into the crash. More than a third of the passengers on the jet were from Canada, which said it is sending a team to help with the effort. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it is monitoring the situation.
The flight-data and cockpit-voice recorders will be examined Friday at Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport and any claims of what happened should be considered speculation until the information is retrieved, Abedzadeh said. Hassan Rezaeifar, Iran’s head investigator, said in the same briefing that Iran is open to allowing Russia, Ukraine, France or Canada to take charge of extracting the data.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a statement earlier Thursday saying there is evidence Flight 752 was shot down. “We are working closely with Canada and our international partners and there now needs to be a full, transparent investigation,” Johnson said.
In Australia on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a radio interview that his country had intelligence that an Iranian missile had shot down the jetliner. In another radio interview, he said he had been briefed by Trudeau and described the episode as “a terrible accident.” In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said while a missile hit hadn’t been ruled out, it also hadn’t been confirmed, “as of today.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky had phone conversations Thursday with heads of state from Canada, Britain, Sweden and Iran — each of whose citizens were among the passengers. While Ukraine’s readouts of those calls said Zelensky intended to keep those leaders abreast of Ukraine’s findings and encouraged their countries to participate in the investigation, he has now had to publicly ask to be briefed in return.
“Given the recent statements by the heads of state in the media, we call on all international partners, especially the governments of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, to provide data and evidence relating to the disaster to the commission investigating the causes,” Zelensky said in a statement on Facebook.
Whether accidental or intentional, a shoot-down would echo two other instances of surface-to-air missiles striking civilian jets. In 2014, pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine fired on and destroyed a Malaysia Airlines jetliner. In 1988, an Iranian airliner was felled by a U.S. cruiser after being mistaken for a hostile aircraft following a skirmish with Iranian boats.
Some airlines aren’t taking any chances. Deutsche Lufthansa AG tweeted Friday that it turned around a plane headed to Tehran.
President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters in Washington on Thursday, said, “I have my suspicions” about why the plane went down but he didn’t say what those suspicions are.
“It was flying in a pretty rough neighbourhood,” Trump said. “Somebody could have made a mistake.”
The Ukrainian president’s office has said 45 Ukraine experts were working in Iran on the investigation and there are “several versions” for the cause under consideration.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by phone with Zelenskiy on Thursday and agreed to form a task force involving their transport officials and foreign ministries, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, citing Rouhani’s deputy head of communications.
Information provided by the United States will help investigate the crash, Zelenskiy said on Friday after a phone call with Secretary of State Pompeo.
The U.S. intelligence assessment is consistent with what some aviation accident experts have said. The apparent rapid spread of the fire combined with the sudden halt of radio transmissions from the plane after a normal climb aren’t consistent with previous crashes, said Jeffrey Guzzetti, the former head of accident investigations at the Federal Aviation Administration.
While Iranian officials initially said they suspected a problem with one of the plane’s engines, they retracted that in a preliminary report issued Thursday. The government also took the unusual step of setting up an investigative group to examine whether “any unlawful actions” initiated the fire on the plane, the preliminary report said.
Iran notified the International Civil Aviation Organization, an arm of the United Nations, about the crash, which should trigger involvement of other nations in the investigation, including the U.S., the agency said in a press release Thursday.
Under rules known as Annex 13, the nation in which a crash occurs usually is in charge of an investigation. Other nations are permitted to take part, such as the country in which the plane was made. Since Boeing manufactured the Ukrainian jet, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board would have a right to participate.
It remains unclear whether NTSB will send a representative to the Iran because U.S. law restricts travel to that country and the exchange of certain data. The agency said in a statement on Thursday night that it had “designated an accredited representative to the investigation of the crash.”
The U.S. Treasury has granted waivers for U.S. investigators to work in Iran in the past, but it has been a cumbersome process. Also, the NTSB has at times declined to send investigators to countries it deems unsafe.
— with files from Reuters
Overcoming scandal and PTSD, Japan’s Princess Mako finally marries college sweetheart
Japan‘s Princess Mako, the emperor’s niece, has married her commoner college sweetheart on Tuesday and left the royal family after a years-long engagement beset by scrutiny that has left the princess with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mako and fiance Kei Komuro, both 30, announced their engagement four years ago, a move initially cheered by the country. But things soon turned sour as tabloids reported on a money scandal involving Komuro’s mother, prompting the press to turn on him. The marriage was postponed, and he left Japan for law studies in New York in 2018 only to return in September.
Their marriage consisted of an official from the Imperial Household Agency (IHA), which runs the family’s lives, submitting paperwork to a local office in the morning, foregoing the numerous rituals and ceremonies usual to royal weddings, including a reception.
Mako also refused to receive a one-off payment of about $1.3 million typically made to royal women who marry commoners and become ordinary citizens, in line with Japanese law.
Television footage showed Mako, wearing a pastel dress and pearls, saying goodbye to her parents and 26-year-old sister, Kako, at the entrance to their home. Though all wore masks in line with Japan’s coronavirus protocol, her mother could be seen blinking rapidly, as if to fight off tears.
Though Mako bowed formally to her parents, her sister grabbed her shoulders and the two shared a long embrace.
In the afternoon, Mako and her new husband will hold a news conference, which will also depart from custom. While royals typically answer pre-submitted questions at such events, the couple will make a brief statement and hand out written replies to the questions instead.
“Some of the questions took mistaken information as fact and upset the princess,” said officials at the IHA, according to NHK public television.
Komuro, dressed in a crisp dark suit and tie, bowed briefly to camera crews gathered outside his home as he left in the morning but said nothing. His casual demeanour on returning to Japan, including long hair tied back in a ponytail, had sent tabloids into a frenzy.
Just months after the two announced their engagement at a news conference where their smiles won the hearts of the nation, tabloids reported a financial dispute between Komuro’s mother and her former fiance, with the man claiming mother and son had not repaid a debt of about $35,000.
The scandal spread to mainstream media after the IHA failed to provide a clear explanation. In 2021, Komuro issued a 24-page statement on the matter and also said he would pay a settlement.
Public opinion polls show the Japanese are divided about the marriage, and there has been at least one protest.
Analysts say the problem is that the imperial family is so idealised that not the slightest hint of trouble with things such as money or politics should touch them.
The fact that Mako’s father and younger brother, Hisahito, are both in the line of succession after Emperor Naruhito, whose daughter is ineligible to inherit, makes the scandal particularly damaging, said Hideya Kawanishi, an associate professor of history at Nagoya University.
“Though it’s true they’ll both be private citizens, Mako’s younger brother will one day become emperor, so some people thought anybody with the problems he (Komuro) had shouldn’t be marrying her,” Kawanishi added.
The two will live in New York, though Mako will remain on her own in Tokyo for some time after the wedding to prepare for the move, including applying for the first passport of her life.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
EU countries splinter ahead of crisis talks on energy price spike
Divisions have deepened among European Union countries ahead of an emergency meeting of ministers on Tuesday on their response to a spike in energy prices, with some countries seeking a regulatory overhaul and others firmly opposed.
European gas prices have hit record highs in autumn and remained at lofty levels, prompting most EU countries to respond with emergency measures like price caps and subsidies to help trim consumer energy bills.
Countries are struggling to agree, however, on a longer term plan to cushion against fossil-fuel price swings, which Spain, France, the Czech Republic and Greece say warrant a bigger shake-up of the way EU energy markets work.
Ministers from those countries will make the case on Tuesday for proposals that include decoupling European electricity and gas prices, joint gas buying among countries to create emergency reserves, and, in the case of a few countries including Poland, delaying planned policies to address climate change.
In an indication of differences likely to emerge at the meeting, nine countries including Germany – Europe’s biggest economy and market for electricity – on Monday said they would not support EU electricity market reforms.
“This will not be a remedy to mitigate the current rising energy prices linked to fossil fuels markets,” the countries said in a joint statement.
The European Commission has asked regulators to analyse the design of Europe’s electricity market, but said there was no evidence that a different market structure would have fared better during the recent price jump.
“Any interventions on the market and the decoupling of [gas and power] pricing are off the table,” one EU diplomat said, adding there was “no appetite” among most countries for those measures.
Other proposals – such as countries forming joint gas reserves – would also not offer a quick fix and could take months to negotiate. A European Commission proposal to upgrade EU gas market regulation to make it greener, due in December, is seen as the earliest that such proposals would arrive.
With less than a week until the international COP26 climate change summit, the energy price spike has also stoked tensions between countries over the EU’s green policies, setting up a clash as they prepare to negotiate new proposals including higher tax rates for polluting fuels.
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has dismissed such plans as “utopian fantasy”, a stance at odds with other EU countries who say the price jump should trigger a faster switch to low-emission, locally produced renewable energy, to help reduce exposure to imported fossil fuel prices.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Bernadette Baum)
Bad weather off Canadian coast preventing efforts to board container ship after fire
Sixteen crew members were evacuated from the MV Zim Kingston on Saturday. Five remained onboard to fight the fire, which was largely under control by late Sunday.
The company has appointed a salvage crew “but due to the current weather, (they) have been unable to board the container ship”, the coast guard said on Twitter.
“The containers continue to smolder and boundary cooling – spraying water on the hull and on containers near the fire – continues,” it added.
The ship is anchored several kilometers (miles) off the southern coast of Vancouver Island, in the province of British Columbia. There is no impact to human health, the coast guard said.
Danaos Shipping Co, the company that manages the ship, said on Sunday that no injuries had been reported on board.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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