Ukrainian president asked Iran to bring Canada into downed flight investigation: envoy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has issued a direct plea to his Iranian counterpart to ensure that Canadian aviation safety officials are included in the investigation into the downing of Flight PS752.

Ukraine's ambassador to Canada says Iran has proposed decoding black boxes in that country

Debris of a plane belonging to Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, which crashed shortly after taking off from Iran's Imam Khomeini airport, is seen on the outskirts of Tehran. Ukraine's ambassador to Canada says the president of his country has asked Iran's president to fully include Canada in the investigation. (Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA via Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has issued a direct plea to his Iranian counterpart to ensure that Canadian aviation safety officials are included in the investigation into the downing of Flight PS752.

The appeal was made Thursday during a telephone call between the two leaders, Ukraine's ambassador to Canada, Andriy Shevchenko, told CBC News.

It is unclear what Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's response might have been, but the Transportation Safety Board of Canada announced late Thursday that Canadian investigators would at least be granted access to the crash site — a somewhat limited concession.

"When [President] Zelensky talked to the president of Iran, he specifically asked his Iranian counterpart to make sure that Canada will be able to contribute to this investigation — and that's something that we strongly believe in," Shevchenko said.

"We believe the way to move forward is to find a good format that can allow all the interested countries, all the interested parties, to participate in the investigation."

Ukrainian specialists working with Iranians on crash investigation

3 years ago
Duration 6:47
Ukraine's ambassador to Canada says Ukraine has sent 45 specialists to Tehran to work on the investigation into the deadly crash of flight 752.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said intelligence evidence, collected by American and Canadian agencies, indicates an Iranian missile brought down the Ukraine International Airlines flight to Kyiv shortly after takeoff from Tehran early Wednesday morning, killing all 176 people on board, including 138 who were ultimately bound for Canada.

Fifty-seven of them were Canadian citizens, including entire families, academics, students and newlyweds. (The government revised the number of Canadians among the victims to 57 from 63 late Friday.)

Trudeau said the "unspeakable tragedy" doesn't appear to have been deliberate.

That tragedy that came just hours after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two airbases in Iraq housing U.S. and coalition troops — in direct retaliation for the Trump administration's targeted killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani just days earlier.

Decoding the black boxes

Iran has insisted that the doomed airliner's black boxes will not be handed over to the plane's American manufacturer, Boeing, although the head of the country's civil aviation authority, Ali Abedzadeh, told CNN that they may require help decoding the devices.

Ukrainian investigators had a good meeting Thursday with their Iranian counterparts, who proposed, among other things, that Iranian technicians would decrypt the information while the Ukrainians observed, Shevchenko said.

"From what I hear, on the professional level, there was a proper, professional conversation on all the avenues of investigation," he said. 

"It is my understanding that there is a discussion of what is the best way to organize, what is the best way to deal with the black boxes. One of the things which was discussed — or which was offered, proposed by the Iranian specialists — is to think about decoding the black boxes on the Iranian soil."

'Whatever we know we will share'

Shevchenko emphasized that no final decision was made on that important point and said more discussions are planned, although Ukrainian media reported late Thursday that Rouhani had assured Zelensky that Ukrainian investigators will be provided access to all the necessary data.

On Friday, Ukraine's foreign minister said the United States has given President Volodymyr Zelensky important data about the crash, ahead of a call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Zelensky and Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko met U.S. representatives to receive the data, which will be processed by experts, Prystaiko said, without going into details about the nature of the data or what it signified.

Candles light a photo of one of the victims of Flight PS752 during a vigil at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto on Thursday. (Geoff Robins/AFP via Getty Images)

 Shevchenko said Ukraine enjoys a good relationship with its Westerns allies.

"I think we, as friends and partners, we want to make sure that there is very good flow of necessary information on this matter between us," he said. 

"We are very committed to the approach [that] whatever we know, we will share this with our friends, who desperately seek this kind of information. And we would expect the same approach from our key partners."


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

With files from Reuters