Iranian officials plan to meet with international investigators on Saturday and announce the cause of the Ukrainian jetliner crash near Tehran this week that killed all 176 aboard, Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency reported on Friday, capping a day of international recriminations.
The announcement comes amid a global race to answer the many questions surrounding the Wednesday crash. American and allied intelligence assessments have suggested that Iranian missiles brought down the plane, most likely by accident, amid the heightened tensions between the United States and Iran. On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the first American official to publicly confirm the disclosures.
“We do believe that it’s likely that the plane was shot down by an Iranian missile,” he said at a briefing at the White House to announce new sanctions against Iran in response to its firing of ballistic missiles at American targets in Iraq this week. “We’re going to let the investigation play out before we make a final determination,” he added.
Iranian officials have denied that its missiles brought down the plane. A top aviation official doubled down on Friday, saying that statements from other nations were politically motivated.
But by late Friday, officials were considering acknowledging that Iranian missiles brought down the jet, according to four Iranians familiar with the deliberations. But the government may instead try to blame faulty jet equipment.
Ukraine’s main intelligence agency, known as the S.B.U., said only that it had narrowed the cause of the crash to a missile strike or a terrorist act and that it could not confirm Western intelligence that an Iranian missile system was likely to blame.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine made clear on Friday that Western governments, allies in his country’s conflict with Russia, had not initially shared the evidence underpinning their assessments that Iran had brought down the Ukrainian jet, though later a spokeswoman said that American officials had handed over more information.
The crash has presented Mr. Zelensky, a 41-year-old comedian who swept into office with a surprising election victory last spring, with the most urgent crisis of his short tenure. And its aftermath has the potential to open a fresh rift between Ukraine and its most important Western allies.
Mr. Zelensky has already turned into an unwilling player in United States domestic politics as a result of President Trump’s pressure campaign seeking announcements of investigations by Ukraine that could benefit him politically. Now, Mr. Zelensky is stuck in the middle of an even more volatile American crisis: the conflict with Iran.
Mr. Zelensky needs Iranian cooperation to deliver the full-fledged investigation of the disaster that he has pledged to Ukrainians. But he also needs the data collected by Western intelligence — as well as continued Western support in Ukraine’s conflict with Russia.
“Our goal is to ascertain the undeniable truth,” Mr. Zelensky said in a statement on Friday. “We believe this is the responsibility of the whole international community before the families of the dead and the memory of the victims of the catastrophe.”
Any reluctance from Western countries to help would create suspicions in Ukraine that those countries were using the tragedy as a cudgel in their conflict with Iran, said Anatoliy Hrytsenko, a former Ukrainian defense minister.
“Western leaders must give us these intelligence findings,” Mr. Hrytsenko said. “If we assume the worst and they don’t do this, then a big question mark arises: Is this really about determining the cause of a plane crash or is this now geopolitics?”
Ukrainian officials also analyzed the plane’s flight pattern on Friday and determined it had stayed within the normal corridor for flights out of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, said at a news conference.
“There was nothing to indicate the flight was in danger,” he said.
American officials have a high level of confidence that a Russian-made Iranian air defense system had fired two surface-to-air missiles at the plane minutes after it took off for Kyiv, one United States official has said. The jet had crashed hours after Iran fired ballistic missiles at American targets in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the leader of a powerful branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and was bracing for a possible American response.
But Iran’s failure to close its airspace and ground commercial planes was a key error, according to an American official. Some officials believe Iran may have left its airspace open to avoid telegraphing the precise timing of the airstrike, the official said.
Ali Abedzadeh, the chief of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, urged caution at a Friday news conference, saying that investigators could not determine anything about the cause of the crash until they analyzed data from the so-called black-box flight recorders. No missile hit the plane, he said, and it was likely on fire before it crashed.
But the Iranian air defense system used Wednesday is designed to explode near aircraft, creating shrapnel that takes a plane out of the sky, rather than directly hitting it. And footage verified by The New York Times appears to show a missile fired from Iranian territory exploding near where the jet crashed.
State television in Iran aired footage that it said showed two black boxes recovered from the crash site. Processing their data could take more than a month, and the investigation could take up to two years, Hassan Rezaeifar, the head of the Iranian investigation team, said during the news conference.
Normally, Iran has the capacity to download black-box data, but Mr. Rezaeifar said that the devices were damaged, making it difficult to extract information.
“We need special software and hardware which are available in our country, but if we fail to extract the data due to the damages of the black box, we will get help from other countries,” he said, noting that Ukraine, France, Canada and Russia have all expressed willingness to help.
France’s aviation investigation authority, known by its French acronym B.E.A., said Iran had invited it to take part in the investigation because the jetliner’s engine was designed by CFM International, a joint venture between GE Aviation, an American company, and Safran Aircraft Engines, a French one.
While many of the passengers on board were Iranians, citizens of at least seven other nations were on board, prompting expressions of sympathies from around the world that continued on Friday.
Among the dead were at least 63 Canadians, many of them university students. Dozens were believed to be from Edmonton, members of the Iranian community there told local news outlets. At least 10 were students or staff at the University of Alberta, according to a statement from David H. Turpin, the school’s president.
“We are grieving for lost colleagues, classmates, teachers, and mentors, as well as loved ones, family, friends and roommates,” he said.
A number of Swedish nationals were also on board. “We will do everything we can to find out what happened,” Stefan Lofven, the Swedish prime minister, said in a statement. “My thoughts go to the victims, their families and close relatives at this difficult time. You are not alone. We share your sorrow.”
Farnaz Fassihi and Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting.
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