Iranian official pushes back at Canada as Flight PS752 talks start
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Canada is not part of its talks
As a second round of talks gets underway between Ukraine and Iran on the destruction of Flight PS752, an Iranian official said today Canada has no part in the negotiations and called Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne "impolite."
Saeed Khatibzadeh, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, apparently took offence when Minister François-Philippe Champagne said recently that Canada will hold the Iranian "regime" to account.
"I am so ... sorry that the Canadian nation must witness such literature from such a foreign minister," said Khatibzadeh in Farsi today from Tehran.
Earlier this month, Champagne joined Canadian victims' families protesting on Parliament Hill and said that Canada will not be "intimidated ever by an Iranian regime who would not want us to get to the bottom of this."
Ukraine's delegation, headed by its deputy foreign minister, is in Iran for three days of meetings that began today with Iranian officials and the head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization. Three working groups are expected to discuss Iran's investigation, judicial process and compensation for the airline and victims' families.
Ukraine's ambassador to Canada, Andriy Shevchenko, told CBC News earlier this month that Ukraine would be representing at the talks all five countries — Canada included — that lost citizens when Iranian military forces mistakenly shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Jan. 8, killing everyone onboard.
Shevchenko said the Ukrainian delegation will be pushing Iran for answers, accountability and compensation.
Today, Khatibzadeh said Iran will not be dealing with Canada.
"Canada is not a conflicted party. The friendly Ukraine government and people are our conflicted party," said Khatibzaeh in Farsi.
"Our approach toward the Ukrainian plane is clear. It was a very bad tragedy. The Islamic Republic of Iran's responsibility is to fulfil the right of the victims and their families of this incident and fix it."
Attempt made to deal with Ukraine bilaterally, says ambassador
The destruction of PS752 claimed the lives of 176 passengers — including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
Ukraine has gone through one round of talks with Iran already. On Oct. 5, Shevchenko told CBC News that Iran asked his government to cut other countries out of the talks.
"I would be fair to say, yes, Iran has approached Ukraine with a proposal to deal with these issues bilaterally," Shevchenko told CBC News. "Our response is we prefer to deal with the situation all together, with all the countries involved. It's very important for us to have a joint position and speak [with] one voice."
Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and the U.K. also lost citizens when PS752 went down. Canada spearheaded the International Coordination and Response group to put pressure on Iran to provide transparency and accountability in response to the crash.
Ukraine has launched a criminal investigation of the incident and the RCMP is assisting with the investigation, Canadian officials have said. The Canadian government announced this month it's also creating its own forensics and assessment team to "collect, organize and analyze all available information, evidence and intelligence" from Flight PS752.
Champagne's office said today the minister is "actively working with his international partners to advocate for thorough and credible investigations to uncover the causes and those responsible for this terrible tragedy."
"Canada will work tirelessly to ensure that the families of the victims can get the answers they deserve," said Champagne's press secretary Syrine Khoury in a media statement.
Hamed Esmaeilion — whose wife Parisa Eghbalian and her nine-year old daughter Reera Esmaeilion died on Flight PS752 — is the spokesperson for an association representing victims' families in Canada. He said Khatibzadeh's comments about Canada's position made him angry.
"I got really upset when I heard that this morning," he said. "I think they're not in a position to give Canada morality lessons."
He said he sees Khatibzadeh's comments as an attempt to divide the countries demanding transparency and justice from Iran.
Esmaeilion said Iran is trying to argue Canada has no right to be involved in the talks because it does not recognize dual nationality.
His association is urging the Ukrainian delegation to focus on holding Iran accountable and seeking justice before talking about compensation for families.
Champagne rejected Iran's July report
Iran denied shooting down the Ukrainian aircraft for three days after the crash. As international pressure and evidence began to mount, Tehran admitted its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) "mistakenly" shot down the jet just hours after Iran's forces fired missiles at Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed.
That attack was retaliation for an American drone strike that killed a high-ranking Iranian military general in Iraq.
In July, Champagne rejected a report by Iran's Civil Aviation Organization claiming that human error was to blame for the jet's destruction.
That report stated that the IRGC had moved its surface-to-air missile battery and didn't properly reorientate it afterwards, causing it to fire in the wrong direction. The report also said a communication breakdown led those manning the missile battery to misidentify the commercial jet as a threat, and that they opened fired twice without getting approval from ranking officers.
Champagne also accused Iran of "stalling" when it waited for roughly seven months to send the plane's black boxes to Paris for download and analysis. Iran's Civil Aviation Organization's preliminary report in August said that the flight recorders captured only 19 seconds of the cockpit conversation after the first missile strike — it did not reveal details of what that recording captured. A second missile hit the plane 25 seconds later, according to Iran.
Several Canadian cabinet ministers, including Champagne, said the report provided only "limited and selected information" and demanded that Iran explain why the airspace over Tehran was kept open on a night of heavy military activity, and why the missiles were launched in the first place.