Having insisted it had nothing to do with the demise of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752, whose downing it blamed on mechanical problems, officials in Tehran admitted the plane had been shot down after passing close to a sensitive military site.
Yet, while admitting its was responsible for Wednesday’s downing of the jet, which happened shortly after Iran responded to the targetted killing of Qassem Soleimani by launching ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq used by US forces, officials in Tehran also sought to put the blame on Washington’s “adventurism”.
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“A sad day. Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces: Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster,” Iran’s foreign minster Mohammad Javad Zarif, wrote on Twitter.
“Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”
The admission by Iran came after leaders of various Western nations, perhaps most powerfully Justin Trudeau of Canada, whose nation lost around 60 citizens, pointed the finger of blame at Iran.
“We have intelligence from multiple sources…the intelligence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said on Thursday.
“This may well have been unintentional.”
Precisely what impact the admission from Iran will make to a situation already beset by distrust and suspicion, remains to be seen.
It comes as Donald Trump on Friday doubled down on his insistence that the killing of Soleimani – the incident that presaged the downing of the jet – had been necessary.
As Democrats and other critics questioned claims from the Trump administration that Soleimani was plotting “imminent” attacks on US interests, he told Fox News that four US embassies had been at risk, including the one in Baghdad.
It was in Baghdad that the 62-year-old Iranian military leader, was assassinated last week by a US airstrike, carried out by a Reaper drone.
Iran said the passenger plane, on route to Ukraine’s capital Kiev and carrying 167 passengers and 9 members of crew, including 82 Iranians, at least 57 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians and 4 Britons, had been struck “unintentionally“ by its nation’s military.
A statement from the military, and carried by state media, said the plane was mistaken for a ”hostile target“ after it turned towards a ”sensitive military centre“ of the Revolutionary Guard. The military was at its ”highest level of readiness”. it said, amid the heightened tensions with the United States.
“In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit,” the statement said. It apologised for the disaster and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent future tragedies.
It also said those responsible for the strike on the plane would be prosecuted.
The jetliner, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, went down on the outskirts of Tehran shortly after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport.
”This is the right step for the Iranian government to admit responsibility, and it gives people a step towards closure with this admission,“ said Payman Parseyan, a prominent Iranian-Canadian in western Canada who lost a number of friends in the crash.
“I think the investigation would have disclosed it whether they admitted it or not. This will give them an opportunity to save face.”
Additional reporting by agencies