World

Iran Foreign Minister admits people ‘were lied to’ for days over crash

He also praises Iran's military for being 'brave enough to claim responsibility early on'

NEW DELHI : Iran's top diplomat acknowledged yesterday that Iranians "were lied to" for days after the accidental downing of a Ukrainian jet, killing 176 people last Wednesday.

This comes as Iran President Hassan Rouhani warned that European soldiers in the Middle East "could be in danger" after Britain, Germany and France challenged Teheran over breaking limits of its nuclear deal.

The comments by Mr Mohammad Javad Zarif in New Delhi represent the first time an Iranian official referred to the earlier story that a technical malfunction downed the flight as a lie, AP reported.

Mr Rouhani's remarks later in a televised Cabinet meeting represent the first direct threat he has made to Europe as tensions remain high between Teheran and Washington over President Donald Trump withdrawing the US from the deal in May 2018.

"In the last few nights, we've had people in the streets of Teheran demonstrating against the fact that they were lied to for a couple of days," Mr Zarif said.

He went onto praise Iran's military for being "brave enough to claim responsibility early on".

He also said he and Mr Rouhani learnt a missile had downed the flight last Friday, raising questions over how much power Iran's civilian government has in its Shiite theocracy.

Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which shot down the aircraft, knew immediately its missile downed the airline.

It is answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is expected to preside over Friday prayers in Iran for the first time in years over anger about the crash.

In Teheran, Mr Rouhani issued his threat in a speech that criticised the three countries for starting the "dispute process" of the 2015 nuclear deal.

"Today, the American soldier is in danger; tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger," he said.

The European nations on Tuesday reluctantly triggered the accord's dispute mechanism to force Iran into discussions, starting a process that could result in the "snapback" of UN and EU sanctions on Iran.

Meanwhile, new footage has emerged showing two Iranian missiles hitting a Ukrainian passenger plane. The projectiles were fired 30 seconds apart and explain why the transponder was not working - it was disabled by the first strike, before being hit again, said The New York Times, which published the verified security camera footage on Tuesday.

The blurry film, shot from a rooftop in a village about 6km from an Iranian military site, shows the Kiev-bound plane on fire and circling back to Teheran's airport, the Times said. Minutes later, the aircraft exploded and crashed.On Tuesday, Iran said it had made its first arrests over the shooting down of the plane, though it gave no details, AFP reported.

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