By Allison Lampert and David Ljunggren
MONTREAL/OTTAWA, March 11 (Reuters) – Iran has agreed to send black boxes from a downed Ukrainian jetliner to Kiev for analysis, an Iranian official said on Wednesday, a move that would end a two-month standoff over the recordings from the jet.
Top Iranian officials have until now refused to hand over the flight recorders from the Ukraine International Airlines flight, which was shot down by the Iranian military on Jan. 8 with the loss of all 176 people on board.
Farhad Parvaresh, who heads Iran‘s delegation at the U.N.’s Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), said Tehran’s civil aviation authority had also invited other interested countries to participate in reading the data.
This effectively opens the door to the United States, Ukraine, Canada and ICAO itself, people familiar with the investigation said. Air crash investigations are usually left to ICAO’s 193 member states. Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne described the move as a step in the right direction.
“We welcome those words, but we will judge Iran obviously by their actions,” he told reporters. Ottawa has repeatedly pressed Iran to hand over the damaged boxes from the crash, in which 57 Canadians died.
Iran had also made clear it would transfer the boxes to France if need be, Champagne said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Iran in January to send the recorders to France, one of the few countries with the ability to read damaged black boxes.
Andriy Shevchenko, Ukrainian ambassador to Canada, tweeted that the announcement was “an important result”.
Under U.N. rules Iran retains overall control of the investigation while the United States and Ukraine are fully accredited as the countries where the jet was respectively built and operated.
Canada is notionally on a lower rung of official access as the home of many of the accident’s victims, but in practical terms it is expected to have an active role following strong pressure from Trudeau, safety experts said.
“We will have our experts there present so we can better assess (if there) was any tampering with the black boxes,” Champagne said.
It remains unclear how much cooperation there would be on the probe between the United States and Iran, with relations at their lowest point in years.
Salvatore Sciacchitano, president of ICAO’s governing council, welcomed what he said was Iran‘s confirmation of its intention to have the black boxes analyzed in either Ukraine or France.
(Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris, by Ilya Zhegulev in Kiev, and Steve Scherer and Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Nick Zieminski and Tom Brown)