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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Iran says coronavirus delays reading of Ukraine airline black boxes

All 176 people on board the Ukrainian passenger jet died [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 June, 2020

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Tehran has pledged to cooperate with international investigations into the accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner earlier this year.
Iran said on Monday that the coronavirus pandemic has slowed its plans to send abroad the black boxes of a Ukrainian plane its forces mistakenly shot down in January.

"From the first days of this painful incident, we announced our readiness to cooperate in investigating the black boxes of the Ukrainian plane," government spokesman Ali Rabiei said.

"There is nothing on our side to hide," he told a news conference in Tehran.

"If it is possible to read them in Ukraine... this will be done in Ukraine. Otherwise, the black boxes will be read in France."

But he said the process had been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen most international flights cancelled.

"The interruption of international flights linked to the coronavirus epidemic caused an involuntary delay," said Rabiei.

"We will resume this process (of sending the black boxes) with the gradual resumption of international flights and the clarification of the results of the negotiations" between Iran and others involved in the process.

Flight 752, an Ukraine International Airlines jetliner, was struck by two missiles and crashed shortly after taking off from the Tehran airport on January 8.

The Islamic republic admitted days later that its forces accidentally shot down the Kiev-bound jetliner, killing all 176 people on board.

[Click to enlarge]

Tehran's air defences had been on high alert at the time in case the US retaliated against Iranian strikes hours earlier on American troops stationed in Iraq.

Those strikes were carried out in response to the killing of a top Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport.

The black boxes are expected to contain information about the last moments before the aircraft was struck and crashed.

Many of those on board the downed airliner were Canadians.

Ottowa has demanded for months that Iran, which does not have the technical means to decode the black boxes, send the items abroad so that their content can be analysed.

Canada said two months ago that it and other countries asked Tehran to delay downloading data on the black boxes, because of the coronavirus travel restrictions.

After Tehran said in March it was ready to transfer the black boxes to France or Ukraine, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne guardedly welcomed a "step in the right direction".

But he noted that he would judge Iranian authorities on "their actions and not just their words".

Iran says its novel coronavirus outbreak has killed 8,950 people and infected nearly 190,000 since reporting its first cases in February.

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