Iran FM, Canadian PM Meet in Munich

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has met with Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, in the German city of Munich.

The meeting was held on Friday on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference.

Following the meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, Zarif also met his Canadian counterpart François-Philippe Champagne.

The talks between Iran and Canada come a few weeks after the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in Tehran, which killed all the 176 on board, including dozens of Iranian-Canadian citizens.

Following the tragic incident, Ottawa has been in touch with Tehran despite the Canadian government’s decision to sever ties with Iran in 2012.

Canada and Iran have had no formal diplomatic relations since then. Canadian consular and passport services are provided through other Canadian diplomatic missions in other countries in the Middle East while Iran maintains an interests section at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C.

The government headed by PM Trudeau which took office in 2015, has reportedly been reviewing relations with Iran and, like most countries, lifted most of its economic sanctions following the Iran nuclear agreement in July 2015. But Donald Trump’s re-imposition of Iran sanctions in 2018 has once again reduced the chances for a thaw in relations.

Husband of Iran plane crash victim seeks answers, justice from investigation

The husband of one of the victims who died when a Ukrainian jetliner was shot down by the Iranian military last month wants the people he says ordered his wife’s death to be charged and tried at the International Criminal Court.

Hassan Shadkhoo has been barely able to sleep since his wife, Sheyda, was killed along with 175 others when her plane crashed minutes after take off from Tehran on Jan. 8. Several days later, Iran admitted its military mistook the passenger jet for hostile aircraft amid tensions with the United States.

Sheyda Shadkhoo was 41 when she died, returning to Canada after visiting her mother in Iran. She worked as a chemist at a firm in Markham, Ont., that tests products to ensure they meet government standards.

Hassan Shadkhoo spent two weeks in Iran after the crash, where he buried his wife next to her father at her family’s request. He was already at the airport in Istanbul on when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada had intelligence the plane was brought down by a missile.

Shadkhoo began sobbing as he heard and immediately said it was not an accident, something he still believes today.

He said he had no nerves flying in and out of the same airport because dying was not one of his concerns.

“At this point I have nothing to lose,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press, shortly after he returned to Canada.

He does have a lot of questions and a lot of anger.

He said he wants it made clear he is speaking out on his own behalf, not “for my beloved Sheyda” or her family, who live in Iran.

Shadkhoo said the Iranian regime is criminal, but he says he puts the full blame for what happened on the United States. He also doesn’t believe anyone in the Iranian military accidentally mistook a civilian plane for anything else.

Shadkhoo said the Canadian government and the Italian embassy in Tehran were very helpful and supportive while he was in Iran. Canada hasn’t had a diplomatic presence in Iran since 2012, and the Italians help Canada provide consular assistance to Canadians there when needed.

But now he wants Trudeau to condemn the crash as an act of terrorism and vow to prosecute those responsible at the International Criminal Court.

“Will the prime minister of Canada vow to do this no matter who the perpetrators are,” he said.

The plane was shot down hours after Iran fired missiles at an Iraqi military base hosting American soldiers, in retaliation for the U.S. decision to kill top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3.

Shadkhoo says he wants a thorough investigation into the possibility the plane was targeted deliberately.

The Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 was en route from Tehran to Kyiv, with 57 Canadian citizens on board, along with 82 Iranians, 11 Ukrainians and others from the United Kingdom, Sweden and Afghanistan. In all 138 of the passengers were to eventually headed to Toronto, many of them students and professors returning following the school break.

Canada has been invited by Iran to participate to some extent in the investigation which thus far is moving very slowly.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau expressed frustration Tuesday that Iran still has not released the black boxes for analysis. The flight data and cockpit voice recorders were damaged in the explosion and Iran doesn’t have the technology needed to get at the valuable data. France does and has offered to help but Iran hasn’t yet done anything about that.

The investigation hit a snag this week when a recording between a pilot and the air traffic control tower at the Tehran airport was leaked to Ukrainian media. The recording clearly has a pilot of another plane that was about to land reporting seeing a missile explosion nearby.

As a result of the leaked information, Iran ended co-operation with Ukraine on the investigation.

Mia Rabson

Opinion: Why Governments Must Decide When Not To Fly

by Mark Zee

Until Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 was shot down just before dawn in Tehran on Jan. 8, the tempting narrative was that the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014 was a black swan event.

Iran’s acknowledgment that it shot down PS752 removes that doubt and painfully validates our 5.5 years of work on airspace risk awareness, but it also makes clear that this work was not enough to prevent a repeat tragedy. It is now evident that governments must play a more active role in preventing airlines from flying in conflict zones.

The work the aviation industry has done post-MH17 has not been for nothing. Far from it. Cooperation and collaboration around risk among airlines and among government departments, which was largely frowned upon before MH17, has become acceptable.

Risk awareness is higher than ever before. Information-sharing has moved from small, closed circles to large, open groups.

But underlying that work was an uncertainty around the need for it all. The reason: Risk is nebulous.

A decision to avoid risk averts a situation that might occur. Despite the usual scales of low, medium, and high, the true likelihood is always low. There is no data to provide answers afterward: What did not happen cannot be measured. Airline security managers are therefore under tremendous pressure. Money spent on risk avoidance has no clear billing code. But the temptation to err on the side of saving costs is ever present.

Herein lies the impasse. The ultimate final decision in approach to risk lies with the airline or aircraft operator, which is in most cases a business. Passengers and pilots have an undeniable first priority to stay alive.

A business has the same priority, of course. Every decision in a business will ultimately be a commercial decision to ensure it stays alive. This explains why airlines continued to fly to Tehran even when it was abundantly clear this was a shootdown event.

A lesson from the last five years of our work is that like businesses under pressure to fly through conflict zones, countries cannot be relied upon to close risky airspace or issue damaging guidance about their own territories. Iran is not alone in this. A string of other nations have made similar decisions: Cyprus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Japan, Kenya, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Turkey.  Only on one occasion—Pakistan, in 2019—has a national authority closed its airspace for reasons of conflict-zone risk. Governments have more pressing motivations in trade, tourism and commerce. This will not change.

And yet government involvement is what is needed to solve things. The civil aviation industry has done what is within its power—there are no new initiatives that can take us further.

The position that aircraft operators are solely responsible for making risk decisions favors the handful of large airlines that have the resources to continually assess risk. The overwhelming majority cannot. For thousands of operators, relying on internal or external support to make qualified, informed essential risk decisions is simply not practical. The operational staffing of even a medium-size airline is small, especially at night, when most rapid-onset risk situations occur.

Right now, only a handful of countries are active in prohibiting their carriers from risky areas. But it works.

On the night in question, the U.S. had issued a notice to airmen that prevented its pilots and carriers from operating in Iran, several hours before the shootdown. If there were going to be an incident, it would not involve a U.S. aircraft.

When the U.S. prevents its carriers from flying through a conflict zone, many airlines follow—especially when backed up by Germany, France or the UK. But no system, organization or clear channel exists for that information to be passed to all concerned. This must change.

Each state has a duty to care for its citizens. Most governments have the resources to assess risk. This duty of care needs to be extended to pilots and passengers aboard aircraft.

In the first weeks of 2020, international travel advice about Iraq and Iran from the foreign affairs departments of many countries was clear: Do not travel. That same advice needs to extend to aircraft operators: Do not fly. 

Mark Zee is the founder of Opsgroup, an organization of 7,000 members working in international flight operations that share information to improve awareness of risk, operational procedures and changes after MH17 exposed the lack of collaboration in the industry. He also manages Safe Airspace: The Conflict Zone & Risk Database.

Maria Zakharova: Dutch foreign minister’s speculations over plane crash in Iran impermissible

Russian news agency Tass published a statement of Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova about the MH17 case. She said, that Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok’s attempts at drawing parallels between the MH17 disaster over Donbass in 2014 and the loss of Ukraine’s passenger liner near Tehran on January 8 this year for advancing biased accusations against Russia are devoid of sound logic and therefore impermissible.

"We believe that the chief Dutch diplomat inappropriately used the tragedy in Iran, which has its own causes and special features, for another series of attacks against Russia and for advertising The Hague’s own hackneyed, subjective approaches to the MH17 flight disaster. Now, in connection with the loss of flight PS 752 Blok has demanded that Russia should present what he described as satisfactory answers to a number of questions Joint Investigation Team questions. Without feeling even a little bit shy over the absence of proven facts Blok has come out with some personal feelings Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov feels somewhat uneasy whenever the MH17 issue is raised and that Russians should better recognize their guilt and agree to pay compensations to the relatives of those who died in the disaster, thus easing tensions," she said.

"Speculations over the Iranian tragedy aimed at propping up biased charges against Russia, is first and foremost impermissible and mean in relation to the victims’ relatives and dear ones," Zakharova said. "Blok’s ultimatum-like demands Russia should plead guilty to the loss of the Malaysian plane over Ukraine for the sole reason a Ukrainian plane has been shot down in Iran are inappropriate, unacceptable and devoid of any sound logic."

Zakharova recalled that Russia had provided sufficient evidence in the MH17 case testifying that all charges against it were absolutely groundless.

"Once again Blok overlooked Ukraine’s obvious complicity in the disaster, although it was Kiev that had failed to close the airspace over the zone of hostilities in defiance of the Dutch parliament’s concerns, expressed in this connection."

Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 777 (Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur) was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. The disaster claimed the lives of all 298 passengers and crew on board. Austria, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine formed a Joint Investigation Team (JIT). Russian officials have repeatedly expressed distrust towards its activities and pointed to groundless charges and the reluctance to use the conclusions of the Russian side in the investigation.

A Boeing-737 of Ukraine International Airlines crashed on January 8 minutes after leaving Tehran airport. None of the 176 passengers and crew on board survived. Later, Iran recognized that its air defenses had downed the plane by mistake.

Lessons have not been learned...

Europe’s pilots are shocked and deeply saddened by the downing of Ukrainian Airlines flight PS752 in Iran and the killing of all 176 people on board.

This comes only a few years after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), in 2014. It is tragic proof that some lessons from MH17 on flying into or over conflict zones have not been learnt. Europe has no effective system in place to reduce those risks. The airspace over Ukraine and Iran should have been closed.

Having seen major airlines continue flying to Tehran in the days after the shooting down – despite the security threat – European pilots call for urgent and pragmatic solutions.

“It is clear that we cannot rely on conflict-stressed states to restrict or close their own airspace. We must in principle rely on our national authorities and our airlines to make sure that the lives of passengers and crew are adequately protected and this unchecked risk is addressed,” says ECA Secretary General Philip von Schöppenthau.

”However, purely national, uncoordinated action has not done the job in the past and won’t do it in the future,” he continues. “Individual Member States clearly do not share their security intelligence about conflict zones sufficiently to provide protection. As long as this is the case, and nothing substantive occurs through a dedicated European structure, we will see further flights taking unnecessary risks.”

“What we urgently need is a method of sharing and acting, not upon closely guarded intelligence, but upon the outcome of risk analysis about conflict zones. With these outcomes from different European airlines and states swiftly shared amongst each other and authorities, no European airline or pilot should be left in the dark – all have the opportunity to benefit from the effect of the privileged information of the best informed”, says ECA President Jon Horne. “Whilst many believe there should be an EU or international authority to take responsibility for the closure of hostile airspace, it is not something that shows any sign of happening soon, and so we need a pragmatic, industry-based setup that can provide meaningful protection in the here and now.”

Such a setup might not be perfect, but a stopgap solution is necessary and it was necessary five years ago when the MH17 was shot down over Ukraine as local authorities did not want to close the airspace. It could be an industry held database of current risk assessment outcomes and default procedures for any new armed conflict. It could even be a simple rule of “TWO OUT – ALL OUT”: If at least two Member States and/or two major airlines decide to not fly into a specific block of conflict-affected airspace, this decision would be taken up by all other (EU) states and airlines until the situation is clarified. This means that passengers and crew on all airlines would benefit from the secret and non-sharable intelligence available to some ‘privileged’ authorities and airlines, and by looking only at public outcomes of their risk assessments.

“These ideas are neither conventional, ideal, nor the only solutions,” says ECA Secretary General Philip von Schöppenthau. “But the international failure to effectively cope with flying over and into conflict zones keeps costing lives.”

Evening Bird: A poem dedicated to the lives lost on flight PS752

Dearly to the sun, your serpentine fins embraced bluffs, tripped the morosely linking earth & the heavens with howling wings.

You became lines of sun-split stanzas & warped seas underneath you. You hoot ecstatic stunts, ‘everyone deserved a sunbath.’                                                                                                

You didn’t have enough sleep, you ne’er dreamt. You imitated a night-disciple;

zombied your hands over your shoulders, and blurred God in the face.

Unbelievers chose the head, the tail, I chose none but you burned blue through your gasps in awe & palpitate as volatile balloons; from the lip of a knitting needle. You gasped fireworks, heaven echoed fossil fuels.

Against the hard clicks of a gong & strikes of human-skinned drums, the spotlight was moved to us in thick tears, & our tight gullets as a tourniquet.

We were displaced, cruised amid police gossamers           ‘police lines, do not cross.

Our feet swept metallic feathers, our hands with a kettle douche in a pool of grief; one flopped a portrait & the other lantern. The debris clasped our locust jeans to melting plastics & iron shafts.  

Evening bird, as you watched tears rain from our eyes & haven’t yet proved enough theory on risk society, please; Fall! Fall!! Fall alone!!! like a thunderbolt faraway from our smiles.

Bayowa Ayomide

The victims of Ukraine Flight PS752

A Ukrainian Boeing 737-800 crashed shortly after take-off in Iran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.

In total, 82 Iranians and 63 Canadians were on board the Kyiv-bound Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Flight PS752, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.

There were also 11 victims - including nine crew members - from Ukraine, four Afghans, four Britons and three Germans.

Iran's head of emergency operations said 147 of the victims were Iranian, which suggests many of the foreign nationals held dual nationality.

A list of passengers was released by the airline, but the BBC is awaiting confirmation from people known to the victims.

Canada 'shocked and saddened'

The majority of the passengers on the flight were headed for Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed. Out of the 176 victims, 138 had listed Canada as their final destination.

Of them, 57 of them carried a Canadian passport, but many others were foreign students, permanent residents or visitors.

Initially, the number of Canadian victims was given as 63.

A number of the passengers on board the plane were reportedly students and university staff from Canada returning at the end of the holidays.

The tragedy was a national one, touching many communities across the country.

British Columbia

Ardalan Ebnoddin Hamidi, Niloofar Razzaghi and their teenage son Kamyar, a family of three from Vancouver were returning from Iran where they had taken a short vacation and were confirmed to have been on the flight.

The University of British Columbia said it is mourning the loss of Mehran Abtahi, a postdoctoral research fellow, and sibling alumnus Zeynab Asadi Lari and Mohammad Asadi Lari.

"She was full of dreams, and now they're gone," Elnaz Morshedi told the BBC of her friend Zeynab Asadi Lari, who was studying health sciences.

Her brother Mohammmad was the co-founder of STEM fellowship, a youth-run charity that helps students in maths and sciences.

Other victims from the west coast province include Delaram Dadashnejad, an international student studying nutrition at a college in Vancouver, and couple Naser Pourshaban Oshibi and Firouzeh Madani.

Alberta

The University of Alberta confirmed that 10 members of the institution's community were killed in the tragedy.

Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand, a married couple who taught engineering at the University of Alberta, were killed in the crash, along with their two daughters, Daria, 14, and Dorina, 9.

Arash Pourzarabi, 26,and Pouneh Gourji, 25, were graduate students in computer science at the university, and had gone to Iran for their wedding.

Other students who died included Elnaz Nabiyi, Nasim Rahmanifar, and Amir Saeedinia, as well as alumnus Mohammad Mahdi Elyasi, who studied mechanical engineering and graduated in 2017.

Obstetrician Shekoufeh Choupannejad, her daughter Saba Saadat, who was studying medicine at the university, and Sara, who had recently graduated, were also among those on the flight

The "community is reeling from this loss," said university president David Turpin on Thursday.

Also from the province of Alberta was Kasra Saati, an aircraft mechanic formerly with Viking Air, the CBC confirmed.

Manitoba

Victims from Winnipeg included Forough Khadem, described "as a promising scientist and a dear friend," by her colleague E Eftekharpour.

Graduate student Amirhossein Ghassemi was studying biomedical engineering.

"I can't use past tense. I think he's coming back. We play again. We talk again. It's too difficult to use past tense, too difficult. No one can believe it," his friend Amir Shirzadi told CTV News.

Amirhossein Bahabadi Ghorbani, 21, was studying science at the University of Manitoba and hoped to become a doctor, his roommate told the CBC.

CBC also confirmed that a family of three from that city - Mohammad Mahdi Sadeghi, his wife, Bahareh Hajesfandiari, and their daughter, Anisa Sadeghi, were travelling together on the flight.

Farzaneh Naderi, a customer service manager at Walmart, and her 11-year-old son Noojan Sadr were also killed.

Ontario

Many of the victims were returning to their homes in Toronto and other nearby cities in the province of Ontario.

They included Ghanimat Azhdari - a PhD student at the University of Guelph, Ontario. She specialised in promoting the rights of indigenous groups and her research group described her as "cherished and loved".

Toronto resident Alina Tarbhai was also among the victims, her employer, the Ontario Secondary School Teacher's Federation (OSSTF), told the BBC. Her mother Afifa Tarbhai was also on board.

The University of Windsor, Ontario, confirmed five people from their school had died on the plane. PhD student Hamid Kokab Setareh and his wife Samira Bashiri, who was also a researcher at the school, were among those killed.

Omid Arsalani told CBC that his sister Evin Arsalani, 30, had travelled to Iran to attend a wedding with her husband, Hiva Molani, 38, and their one-year-old daughter Kurdia. All three were killed in the crash.

The University of Toronto confirmed the loss of students Mojtaba Abbasnezhad, Mohammad Amin Beiruti, and Mohammad Amin Jebelli, and Mohammad Salehe.

Seyed Hossein Mortazavi, a childhood friend of Mohammad Salehe, said he was a bit reserved and shy but a brilliant computer programmer whose talent was widely recognised.

McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario confirmed the loss of PhD students Iman Aghabali and Mehdi Eshaghian, as well as of former postdoctoral researcher Siavash Maghsoudlou Estarabadi.

The CBC confirmed that Mahdieh Ghassemi and her two children Arsan Niazi and Arnica Niazi, were on the flight.

Tirgan, an Iranian cultural charity, said "it is with a heavy heart that we bid farewell" to some volunteers with their organisation, including couple Parinaz and Iman Ghaderpanah.

The organisation said it was joining in mourning with another volunteer, Hamed Esmaeilion, who lost his wife Parisa Eghbalian, and their daughter Reera Esmaeilion.

Western University said it was mourning four international students: Ghazal Nourian, Milad Nahavandi, Hadis Hayatdavoudi, Sajedeh Saraeian.

The University of Waterloo shared the news "with heavy hearts" that their community had lost two PhD students Marzieh (Mari) Foroutan and Mansour Esnaashary Esfahani.

Quebec

Engineer Siavash Ghafouri-Azar was returning home with his new wife, Sara Mamani, when the plane crashed. The couple had just bought their first home near the Canadian city of Montreal.

His uncle, Reza Ghafouri-Azar, told the BBC "I cannot come up with words for my kind, dedicated nephew."

"He has been a very positive and passionate from childhood until his soul's departure from his body. Rest in peace my dearest side by your beloved wife," he said.

Mr Ghafouri-Azar is a professor of engineering in Toronto, and he introduced his nephew to Ali Dolatabadi, an engineering professor at Concordia University who would become Siavash's thesis supervisor.

"It is a great loss," Mr Dolatabadi told the BBC. "He was very intelligent, a gentleman. He had a kind and a gentle soul." He said his wife Sarah Mamani was "very kind, very polite". The couple were looking forward to throwing a housewarming party in the New Year.

Armin Morattab was worried when his twin Arvin Morattab, called him from the airport in Tehran, amid reports that Iran had fired missiles at US targets in Iraq.

"He said he was coming back home soon," Mr Morattab told the Montreal Gazette.

Arvin Morattab and his wife Aida Farzaneh were both killed.

The Gazette also confirmed that Mohammad Moeini, from Quebec, was also killed.

Nova Scotia

Global News confirmed that five of the victims have ties to Nova Scotia, a province on Canada's east coast.

Dalhousie University student Masoumeh Ghavi, her sister, Mandieh Ghavi, were both killed, as was local dentist Dr. Sharieh Faghihi, and two graduate students at St Mary's University, Maryam Malek and Fatemeh Mahmoodi.

Ali Nafarieh, a professor at Dalhousie and president of the Iranian Cultural Association of Nova Scotia, employed Masoumeh Ghavi part-time at his IT company. He says she was one of the university's "top students".

"I remember she has always a smile on her face. What she brought in our company in addition to skills and knowledge and experience was her energy. She changed the atmosphere over there. We'll miss her a lot," he told CTV News.

Iran victims

We have no information on the 82 Iranian nationals who died.

Tributes to British victims

Four British nationals were among the victims.

Three have been named as Mohammed Reza Kadkhoda Zadeh, who owned a dry cleaners in West Sussex, BP engineer Sam Zokaei from Twickenham, and and PhD student and engineer Saeed Tahmasebi, who lived in Dartford.

Last year, Mr Tahmasebi married his Iranian partner, Niloufar Ebrahim, who was also listed as a passenger on the plane.

Swedish children feared dead

Ten Swedish nationals died in the crash. Many of them are believed to have also had Iranian citizenship.

Swedish media report that several children were among the victims.

Sweden's foreign ministry confirmed that Swedes were among those killed. It provided no further details.

Ukrainian airline crew

Nine of the 11 Ukrainian nationals killed were staff at Ukraine International Airlines (UIA).

Valeriia Ovcharuk, 28, and Mariia Mykytiuk, 24, were among the flight attendants who died.

On their social media accounts, which are now being filled with tributes, they frequently shared photographs from their travels.

Valeria posted just two weeks ago from a hotel in Bangkok with the caption: "Work, I love you."

Ihor Matkov, was flight PS752's chief attendant. The other three flight attendants were named by the airline as Kateryna Statnik, Yuliia Solohub and Denys Lykhno.

Three pilots were on board at the time of the accident: Captain Volodymyr Gaponenko, First Officer Serhii Khomenko and instructor Oleksiy Naumkin.

All three had between 7,600 and 12,000 hours experience flying a 737 aircraft, according to the airline.

A former UIA pilot said he had flown together with each of the three pilots. Writing on Facebook, Yuri, who wanted to be known only by his first name, described them as "great pilots".