Iran’s investigation into a Boeing crash that killed all 176 people aboard on Wednesday has provided an unlikely venue for cooperation with its enemy, the United States.
The Islamic Republic is seeking to show the world a transparent face at a time of extreme tensions, one week after its top general, Qasem Soleimani, was killed by a US drone strike in Baghdad.
US President Donald Trump, who just days ago had called for the bombing of Iranian cultural sites should the Islamic Republic harm American personnel in its quest for vengeance, has since struck a calming tone – including after the Boeing crash outside Tehran.
“It’s a tragic thing. Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side…. It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood. Somebody could have made a mistake,” Trump told reporters on Thursday.
He expressed confidence Iran would grant the US company Boeing access to the plane’s black box, but added that if the Iranians were to give it to France, the maker of the plane’s engine, or another country, that would also pass muster.
The somber statement was in keeping with the conciliatory tone Trump has struck since Iran carried out a calculated strike on an Iraqi base hosting US personnel in retaliation for Soleimani’s death.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, said the strike was a “slap” and the real revenge would be a US withdrawal from the region, signaling that was the end of retaliation.
“Iran appears to be standing down,” Trump acknowledged.
For Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, the tragic crash of the Ukraine International Airlines plane could become an “opportunity” for the two nations to de-escalate, namely through the US Department of Treasury swiftly granting licenses for Boeing and US inspectors to take part in the probe.
“The tragedy presents the Trump administration an opportunity to demonstrate its often-stated goodwill toward the Iranian people,” he wrote in an op-ed for Bloomberg.
“In return, the US should seek public assurances about the safety of American experts who would travel to Iran, and for these experts to be provided access to the plane’s black boxes – which Iranian officials are reportedly reluctant to provide,” he said.
Hassan Rezaiefar, director general of the Accidents Investigation Board at the Iran Civil Aviation Organization, told reporters on Friday that authorities were already working to access the contents of the black box in a lab at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport to check “whether it is possible to reconstruct and analyze the information inside the country.”
“Iran is putting all of its efforts toward extracting and analyzing the black box domestically and internally,” he said, adding that “if we cannot download it, we would seek help from four countries: Russia, Ukraine, France or Canada.”
Canada, which lost 63 of its citizens – members of the Iranian-Canadian community – in the crash, has blamed the incident on an Iranian surface-to-air missile.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday that his country’s intelligence indicated Iran had shot down the airliner, which was bound for Kiev.
“We know this may have been unintentional,” Trudeau conceded, but added: “Canadians have questions, and they deserve answers.”
The head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization has insisted the aircraft was not hit by a missile as unnamed US intelligence officials have told The Washington Post and other American media outlets.
“The aircraft was flying for more than 1.5 minutes when it caught fire, and the crash site indicates that the pilot had decided to return,” he was quoted by state media as saying.
Ukraine, which in 2014 saw a Malaysian commercial jet shot down over its territory amid conflict with Russian-backed forces, has called for United Nations support for the investigation, and sent 45 of its own investigators to Tehran.