Canada demands role in Iran crash probe

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has called on his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif to allow Canadian experts to take part in the probe into a plane crash that killed dozens of Canadians near Tehran (AFP Photo/CHARLY TRIBALLEAU)

Ottawa (AFP) - Ottawa called Thursday for its own experts be allowed to join the investigation into the crash of an airliner near Tehran that killed dozens of Canadian citizens of Iranian origin.

In a rare phone call with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif late Wednesday, Canada's Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne called for Iran to allow Canadian investigators in to the country, the Canadian foreign ministry said in a statement.

"Minister Champagne stressed the need for Canadian officials to be quickly granted access to Iran to provide consular services, help with identification of the deceased and take part in the investigation of the crash," the statement said.

Champagne told Zarif that "Canada and Canadians have many questions which will need to be answered."

Such direct contact is rare since Canada broke off diplomatic ties in 2012 in protest at Tehran's support for the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad.

The last time such a high-level contact was undertaken was in 2018, when Chrystia Freeland was serving as Canada's foreign minister. She also met Zarif at the UN General Assembly meeting in 2017, the Canadian foreign ministry told AFP.

Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 went down just minutes after takeoff from Tehran airport, with no radio message from the pilot to indicate distress, the Iranian Civil Aviation Organization said.

The disaster unfolded after Tehran launched ballistic missiles at US military targets in Iraq in response to a US drone strike in Baghdad that killed a top Iranian general.

"According to eyewitnesses, a fire was seen on board the plane which grew in intensity," the organization added in an initial statement Wednesday.

Ukraine has already sent 45 crash investigators to Tehran to take part in the inquiry being led by the Iranian authorities.

They arrived in the Iranian capital on Thursday and aim to help analyze the black box recordings of the Boeing plane, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

Iran has said it will not hand the black boxes over to the US aircraft manufacturer.

Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that Iran had accepted an offer of help from the Canadian Transportation Safety Board. Canada has also offered Iran help to analyze the black box data.

The crash killed all 176 people on board, including 63 Canadians.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called for a "thorough" investigation of crash, the country's deadliest since an Air India disaster in 1985 killed 268 Canadians.