Iran has invited Boeing to take part in the investigation into a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed earlier this week at a time of soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran, killing all 176 people on board, state media reported Friday.
The move came after Western leaders said the plane appeared to have been unintentionally hit by a surface-to-air missile near Tehran hours after Iran launched ballistic missiles at two U.S. bases in Iraq to avenge the killing of its top general in an American airstrike.
The ballistic missile attack on the bases caused no casualties, raising hopes that the standoff over the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani would end relatively peacefully. But Iran has sent mixed signals over whether its retaliation is complete.
The state-run IRNA news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying Iran “has invited both Ukraine and the Boeing company to participate in the investigations.” The spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said it will also welcome experts from other countries’ whose citizens died in the crash.
Iran had initially said it would not allow Boeing to take part in the probe, going against prevailing international norms on crash investigations. It later invited the U.S. accident-investigating agency to take part in the investigation.
The National Transportation Safety Board said late Thursday that it would “evaluate its level of participation,” but its role could be limited by U.S. sanctions on Iran. U.S. officials have also expressed concern about sending employees to Iran because of the heightened tensions.
Under rules set by a United Nations aviation organization, the NTSB is entitled to participate because the crash involved a Boeing 737-800 jet that was designed and built in the U.S.
There was no immediate comment from Boeing.
U.S., Canadian and British officials said Thursday it is “highly likely” that Iran shot down the Boeing 737 that crashed near Tehran late Tuesday. U.S. officials said the jetliner might have been mistakenly identified as a threat.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country lost at least 63 citizens in the downing, said “we have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence.”
“The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered similar statements. Morrison also said it appeared to be a mistake. “All of the intelligence as presented to us today does not suggest an intentional act,” he said.
Mousavi said Iran asks Canada’s prime minister and any other government to “provide any information they have to the investigation committee.”
Iranian officials have ruled out a missile strike, and initially said the plane appeared to have crashed because of technical difficulties.
A preliminary Iranian investigative report released Thursday said that the airliner pilots never made a radio call for help and that the aircraft was trying to turn back for the airport when the burning plane went down.
The Iranian report suggested that a sudden emergency struck the Boeing 737, operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, just minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran early Wednesday.
Before the U.S. assessment, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Hasan Rezaeifa, the head of the civil aviation accident investigation commission, claiming that “the topics of rocket, missile or anti-aircraft system is ruled out.”
Nasser Karimi And Joseph Krauss, The Associated Press