Iran said Tuesday that dozens of people had been arrested over the Islamic Republic’s apparently unintentional shooting down of a Ukrainian jetliner last week. The arrests come amid Iranian vows to fully and openly investigate the firing of the surface-to-air missile that downed the plane, killing all 176 people on board.
But while Iran confessed to shooting the jet down — three days after the fact and under intense international pressure — its president asserted Tuesday that the “root causes” of the tragedy were U.S. actions.
“It was the U.S. that caused such an incident to take place,” Iran’s state-controlled news agency Tasnim quoted President Hassan Rouhani as saying. The Iranian regime has blamed the Trump administration for ratcheting up tensions with the controversial decision to kill senior Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a January 2 drone strike in Baghdad.
Iranian forces shot the plane down hours after launching a barrage of ballistic missiles at military bases in Iraq housing hundreds of U.S. forces, in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani. Officials in Tehran have said their forces were on high-alert for any U.S. response to the missile attack, and the operator who fired on the plane believed it was an incoming American missile.
Iran’s attack on the bases killed no one, but U.S. officials have dismissed speculation that Iran might have deliberately missed the troops in a bid to prevent further escalation of hostilities with the U.S.
The U.S. forces in Iraq had “multiple hours” of warning that an Iranian strike was coming, a senior U.S. official told CBS News on Monday. But American troops at the main base struck by Iran told CBS News they had just minutes to take cover, and many still can’t believe everyone escaped unscathed. One American commander said Iran was “shooting to kill.”
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Russia calls European pressure on Iran “ill-considered”
Russia called the move by Britain, France and Germany on Tuesday to ratchet up pressure on Iran to stop violating its landmark nuclear deal an “ill-considered decision” that could lead to a new escalation and make a return to the original framework “unachievable.” The Europeans have reluctantly triggered the accord’s dispute mechanism to force Iran into discussions, starting the clock on a process that could result in the “snapback” of U.N. and European Union sanctions on Iran.
“We see no reason for such a step,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The three European nations specifically avoided threatening the sanctions while emphasizing hopes for a negotiated resolution.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned of a “serious and strong response.” Meanwhile, ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi held out an olive branch, saying his country was “fully ready to answer any good will and constructive effort” that preserves the deal, Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported.
– Associated Press