December 31, 2020 By Isabel Debre, The Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s cabinet has created a compensation fund to pay the families of the 176 victims of a Ukrainian passenger plane that was shot down by Iranian forces outside Tehran last January, the president announced Wednesday.
Iran will pay $150,000 for each victim, state TV reported, without specifying a timeline for the awards. The announcement comes as the families of victims prepare to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 8 crash and diplomats from nations that lost citizens push Iran for more co-operation on the investigation and compensation issues.
There was no immediate comment on Iran’s announcement from the five countries, including Canada, that are in talks with Iran about reparations.
Those killed included dozens of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, and many others with ties to Canadian universities.
For days, Iran denied that its military was responsible for the downing of the plane. But with extensive evidence emerging from Western intelligence reports and international pressure building, Iran admitted that its military had mistakenly fired at the Ukrainian jetliner at a moment of heightened tension between Iran and the United States. Hostilities had reached a fever pitch the week before over the American drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, raising fears of further violence in the region.
Western intelligence officials and analysts believe Iran shot down the aircraft with a Russian-made Tor system, known to NATO as the SA-15. Tehran blamed “human error” for the shoot-down, saying in a report released over the summer that those manning a misaligned surface-to-air missile battery wrongly identified the civilian flight as a threat and opened fire twice without getting approval from ranking officials.
Canadian authorities allege that Iran has not disclosed all relevant evidence or provided satisfactory answers to a number of lingering questions, including the identities of those held responsible for the downing, the exact chain of events that led the Revolutionary Guard to open fire and the decision to leave Iranian airspace open to civilian traffic the same night that Iran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq.
The plane, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukraine International Airlines bound for the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians, 17 Swedes, 11 Ukrainians, four Afghans and four British citizens according to officials. The route was popular with those travelling onward to Canada.
For months, the governments of the five affected countries have demanded that Tehran accept “full responsibility” for the crash and pay compensation to the victims’ families in line with international agreements.
Iran, for its part, has sent mixed messages on the matter of compensation, with Gholamreza Soleimani, the head of the country’s main insurance agency, saying in October that Iran would refuse to pay awards because the jet was “insured by European companies.”
But other Iranian officials have promised to negotiate compensation with the five countries.
“A mistake has been made by us but the base of the compensation should be decided,” said Mohsen Baharvand, deputy to the foreign minister, in September. “We have told our Ukrainian colleagues that international regulations are our basis.”
The association representing the families of victims released a statement last week lambasting Iran’s compensation offer and demanding an independent and transparent investigation into the crash.
“The families are vigilant and will not sign any document,” the statement read. “The murderer cannot play the role of mourner.”