By Faramarz Davar
February 20, 2020
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has resorted to conspiracy theories to try to justify Iran’s unwillingness to cooperate with International Civil Aviation Organization procedure regarding airplane crashes — behavior that could not only do further damage to Iran’s international relations, but also mean the end of flights coming in and out of the country.
Forty days have passed since the Revolutionary Guards shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane over Tehran, resulting in the tragic death of 176 people. In a recent statement issued by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the country is not equipped with the technology to analyze the aircraft’s black box, but it is not prepared to send it outside Iran either, for fear of it being tampered with.
Zarif told the US network NBC : “Why do they want to take this box out of our jurisdiction? Why do they want to get it out of our hands? What’s in this box that they want to hide? This is a very, very important question. I think the United States should make a clear statement. They should provide us with the tools to read the data. They can come to Iran and participate in the process and bring the equipment with them and read the contents of the black box themselves. But this must be done in our presence …. Why didn’t they give us these things? Is there anything they want to hide?”
According to Amendment 13 of the 1944 Chicago Civil Aviation Convention, five states have the right to participate in investigations regarding an air accident: the country where the aircraft was designed, the country where it was manufactured, the country of registration, the country to which the airline belongs, and finally, the country where the crash took place. The research and investigations team leader must be from the country where the accident has taken place.
For the recent disaster in Iran, France, the United States, and Ukraine have the right to be on the investigating board. The Islamic Republic of Iran, as the country where the crash took place, has the right to decide how the investigative group, consisting of representatives from the four countries, will proceed.
According to the laws of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), officials from the country where the crash took place must ensure the team is able to begin its work immediately and effectively; as part of this process, it must promptly retrieve the black box and disclose the details of the incident.
The Islamic Republic of Iran says it does not possess the equipment capable to extract information from the two black boxes of the downed aircraft and that it will not agree to send it to France, which does have the technology.
According to regulations set out by the ICAO, which is based in the United States, Boeing, the US manufacturer, is required to dispatch the necessary technology to read the black boxes, as well as specialists to the crash scene.
Iran is currently under US sanctions, which includes the boycott of its civil aviation industry. Despite this fact, after the plane was shot down it was announced that the US Treasury Department’s Foreign Assets Control Office will issue licenses to send Boeing equipment and specialists to Iran.
An Irrelevant Conspiracy Theory
The Iranian government must answer whether it has taken the necessary measures to obtain the required equipment, including arranging for the presence of Boeing specialists after issuance of the permit, and whether it has undertaken any arrangements, including the issuance of a visa to the Boeing Aviation Authority officials, and whether or not there were any other obstacles.
If it is not possible within a reasonable period of time, to retrieve the black box of the aircraft, the Islamic Republic should hand the box over to a country that has the technology to analyze its content. Contrary to what Mohammad Javad Zarif says, if and when the plane’s black box is taken out of Iran, it will not mean the country will lose its right to participate in the investigation team’s management.
At the very least, the foreign minister created ambiguity when he suggested the transfer of the black box could cause other countries to manipulate its information, but, even worse, it planted the seeds of a conspiracy theory. At any rate, such an allegation is irrelevant for three reasons.
First, Iranian representatives have the right to oversee the black box readout process and to be present at the site when the information is extracted. Second, the plane had two black boxes, which were extracted simultaneously, and there would be no likelihood of manipulation in the presence of Iranian representatives and Ukrainian observers, who are considered to be the beneficiaries of the aircraft. Finally, there would have been no undisclosed information for Iranian officials to fear — nothing worse than the fact that a missile fired on a passenger aircraft was responsible for the deaths of 176 people.
If the status quo continues and the future of the plane’s black box remains uncertain, Ukraine, as the registrant and owner of the plane, could refer the matter to the ICAO Council and demand the involvement of the International Aviation Authority to resolve the matter. So far, there is sufficient evidence Ukraine can present to the court that shows Iran has been in breach of ICAO rules.
Other than Ukraine, Canada, as a member of ICAO and which lost 60 of its citizens in the crash, could demand officials interpret the regulations and bring an end to the deadlock. Iran, as the country where the crash took place, and the United States as the manufacturer of the downed aircraft, must comply with any ICAO vote or stipulation.
If the ICAO were to decide that the Islamic Republic of Iran has refused to comply with its regulations, Ukraine or Canada could immediately refer the matter to the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
In the worst possible scenario, the continued dispute between the parties involved in the airplane crash over the skies of Tehran could possibly lead to the Islamic Republic of Iran being suspended from the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Such a suspension could prevent international flights to Iran, and the cancellation of Iran’s permission to fly its aircraft outside the country, as well as transit flights being barred from using Iranian airspace.