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Ukraine president's message to Iran: 'We insist on the full acceptance of guilt'

Officials stand near the wreckage after a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 carrying 176 people crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran, killing everyone on board; in Shahriar, Iran, Jan. 8, 2020.

ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH/EPA-EFE/TNS

By SERGEI L. LOIKO | Los Angeles Times | Published: January 11, 2020

Ukraine's president called on Iran to fully accept its "guilt" for the downing of a passenger jetliner on Wednesday that killed 176 people.

After initial denials and under growing international pressure, Tehran acknowledged on Friday that an Iranian surface-to-air missile had unintentionally brought down the plane, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukraine International Airlines.

In one of his strongest statements since the disaster, President Volodymyr Zelensky said he appreciated that Iran had acknowledged what happened, but he demanded more answers.

"The morning was not good today but it brought along the truth," Zelensky wrote early Saturday morning on his Facebook page after a briefing from U.S. diplomats. "But we insist on the full acceptance of guilt. We expect Iran to pledge readiness to carry out a full and open investigation, to prosecute those responsible, to return the bodies of the dead, to pay compensations, to extend official apologies via diplomatic channels."

Zelensky also requested that 45 Ukrainian experts already on the site have full access through the course of the investigation. Iran has reportedly asked that Boeing Co. — the American manufacturing giant that has been besieged by safety problems relating to another model, the 737 Max — to join the investigation.

"Iran was pressed to acknowledge the guilt by the evidence presented collectively by the U.S.A., Canada, Great Britain and others," Taras Berezovets, a political scientist and head of Berta consulting company, told  the Los Angeles Times. "Yesterday in Kyiv, U.S. diplomats handed over to the Ukrainian authorities all the evidence, including the data received from satellites."

Among those on board the plane were 11 Ukrainians, 63 people from Canada — including two newlywed couples, both of Iranian ancestry — and a San Diego college student, her sister and their mother.

The disaster has once again thrust Zelensky — a former comedian and actor who won election last April in a landslide — into the spotlight. Since the political novice took office in May, he has found himself personally pulled into the impeachment proceedings against President Trump after the United States held back military aid from his country.

Ukraine has also been reeling from another major plane crash over its soil, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down by Russian-backed rebels in the country's east in 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

The latest plane crash occurred during a new round of tension between the United States and Iran following a U.S. strike that killed Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Suleimani  in Baghdad last week.

The Ukraine jetliner was shot down  just hours after Iran fired more than a dozen short-range ballistic missiles at military bases in Iraq hosting U.S. troops. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said Thursday that the evidence showed that a surface-to-air missile had brought down the plane.

Unlike the United States, Ukraine maintains diplomatic relations with Iran.

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