'Punishment, Payment and Closure': World Leaders React After Iran's Shocking Admission on Plane Crash


Kiev/Ottawa: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday demanded Iran punish those responsible for the downing of a Ukrainian airliner and pay compensation.

"We expect Iran... to bring the guilty to the courts," the Ukrainian leader wrote on Facebook, calling for the "payment of compensation" after Tehran admitted accidentally downing the plane and killing all 176 people on board.

"We hope the inquiry will be pursued without deliberate delay and without obstruction," Zelensky said. He urged "total access" to the full inquiry for 45 Ukrainian experts, and in a tweet also sought an "official apology".

In a phone call with Zelensky, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said those behind the downing of the airliner will be brought to justice, said the Ukranian presidency said.

Rouhani told Zelensky that "all the persons involved in this air disaster will be brought to justice", it said.

Ukraine said Iran had provided enough data, including videos and photographs, to show that the probe will be objective and prompt.

Zelensky's office said Tehran provided Ukrainian experts in Iran "with all the photos, videos and other materials" linked to the probe, "enough data to see that the investigation will be carried out objectively and promptly".

Iranian state TV, citing a military statement, earlier on Saturday said the country 'unintentionally' shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 aboard. The statement blamed "human error" for the shootdown.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a tweet. "Armed Forces' internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people."

"Investigations continue to identify and prosecute this great tragedy and unforgivable mistake," he added.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards later on Saturday accepted full responsibility for the downing, a senior commander of the guards said in a video posted online by state TV.

"I wish I could die and not witness such an accident," aerospace division head Amirali Hajizadeh said, adding a missile that was fired at the jet exploded next to the plane before it went down.

"It was a short-range missile that exploded next to the plane. That's why the plane was able" to continue flying for a while, said Hajizadeh. "It exploded when it hit the ground," he added.

Hajizadeh said the Iranian missile operator who shot down the jet opened fire independently because of communications "jamming". The operator had mistaken the Boeing 737 for a "cruise missile" and only had 10 seconds to decide whether or not to open fire, said Hajizadeh.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the country's armed forces to address "shortcomings", his office said.

"I emphatically advise the general headquarters (of the armed forces) to follow up on shortcomings" to ensure this kind of error does not happen again, said a statement on his official website, adding he expressed his "sincere condolences" to the families of the deceased.

Iran's admission came a day after its civil aviation chief denied claims that the plane had been shot down, as international pressure mounted on Tehran to conduct a credible investigation after several Western governments blamed a missile strike.

The disaster came as tensions soared in the region after the Soleimani killing, and fears grew of an all-out war between the United States and Iran.

'Full investigation needed'

Reacting to Iran's revelation, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said closure and accountability were needed. He also demanded "transparency, and justice for the families and loved ones of the victims", of whom many were Canadian dual nationals.

"This is a national tragedy, and all Canadians are mourning together," Trudeau's office said in a statement. "We will continue working with our partners around the world to ensure a complete and thorough investigation, and the Canadian government expects full cooperation from Iranian authorities.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Iran's admission is an "important first step".

"We will do everything we can to support the families of the four British victims and ensure they get the answers and closure they deserve," he said in a statement issued by his Downing Street office.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Iran's admission is an important step and called for a full investigation.

Merkel said it was good to identify those guilty and underscored the need to "exhaustively establish" what had happened. "Today an important step was taken," she told a news conference after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The chairman of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee said Iran must "learn lessons" from the disaster.

"If decryption of the black boxes and the work of the investigation do not prove that the Iranian army did this intentionally, and there are no logical reasons for this, the incident must be closed. Hoping that lessons will be learned and action taken by all parties," Konstantin Kosachev was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly said it was "important to seize this moment to give space to discussions and negotiations" on the Iran nuclear deal.

"The lessons that we should learn from the dramatic sequence of events that we have experienced... is that we must put an end to this escalation," Parly told France Inter radio.

She reiterated the French position that everything must be done to salvage the landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, which US President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said "it was important that Iran brought clarity to this issue".

"Now Tehran needs to draw the right consequences in the continued appraisal of this dreadful catastrophe, and take measures to ensure that something like this cannot happen again," Mass told Funke media.

(With inputs from AP, AFP and Reuters)