April 9, 2021 | Policy Brief

Ukraine Calls Out Iran’s Lack of Transparency in Airliner Case

April 9, 2021 | Policy Brief

Ukraine Calls Out Iran’s Lack of Transparency in Airliner Case

An Iranian military prosecutor announced on Tuesday the indictment of 10 unnamed individuals in connection to the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752. In response, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement decrying Iran’s “extremely low level of cooperation” in failing to inform Ukraine, “despite numerous inquiries,” of the names and positions of the individuals or the charges allegedly filed against them.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down PS752 on January 8, 2020, six minutes after the civilian aircraft departed Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. All 176 passengers and crew on board, including 11 Ukrainians and 138 people with ties to Canada, were killed.

Pursuant to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, Iran – as the country in which the downing occurred – led the investigation into PS752. In December 2020, the Canadian government released a comprehensive report scrutinizing Iran’s response and investigation. In February 2021, Agnes Callamard, then-UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, published a 45-page official communication sent to the Islamic Republic that identified Tehran’s human rights violations and contained 26 sets of probing questions regarding PS752.

The announcement of the indictments follows the release of Iran’s final investigation report last month. The regime’s official account asserts that a sole IRGC operator misaligned the air defense unit, misidentified the outgoing airliner for an incoming “hostile target,” and suffered a communications failure – during which the operator fired twice without command approval. The Islamic Republic has offered no evidence or data to back up these claims.

Tehran further stated that its military decision-making process is beyond the scope of the mandated investigation. The regime still refuses to name key decision-makers throughout the chain of command responsible for the downing.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba rejected Iran’s report as both “a cynical attempt to hide true causes of the downing” and “a collection of manipulations.” On March 24, following the report’s release, Yevheniy Yenin, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, spoke with Robert Malley, the U.S. special envoy for Iran. Malley “stated readiness … to provide the necessary support to hold Iran accountable,” according to Ukraine’s readout of the conversation.

However, it is unclear if President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the case in recent phone calls with their counterparts, based on the public White House and State Department readouts of their conversations. In contrast, both Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Marc Garneau publicly noted the case in their recent engagements with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Kuleba, respectively.

In its recent statement, the Ukrainian government said it “will not accept any version of the PS752 [downing] that has been voiced but not confirmed by real evidence.” As such, Ukraine has moved “even closer” to elevating the issue under provisions of the Montreal Convention of 1971, according to Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada. The convention – to which both Ukraine and Iran are party – concerns criminal liability and financial compensation in the destruction of civilian aircraft.

Ukraine may soon decide to initiate the process of negotiations, arbitration proceedings, and, if necessary, the elevation of the dispute to the International Court of Justice. While the United States is not party to the court, the Biden administration should publicly voice its support for Ukraine to hold the Islamic Republic accountable at the international level. Regardless of the status of ongoing nuclear negotiations between Washington and Tehran, Biden should stand firm with U.S. allies and partners in the face of Iran’s continued transgressions in the case of PS752.

Toby Dershowitz is senior vice president for government relations and strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Dylan Gresik is a government relations analyst. They both contribute to FDD’s Iran Program and International Organizations Program. For more analysis from Toby, Dylan, and the Iran and International Organizations programs, please subscribe HERE. Follow Toby and Dylan on Twitter @tobydersh and @DylanGresik. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran. FDD is a non-partisan think tank focused on national security and foreign policy.


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