White House

Trump suggests Iran downed Ukrainian airliner, potentially by accident

U.S. officials haven't publicly stated what caused the crash yet

President Donald Trump arrives at the White House after a rally in Michigan on Dec. 19, 2019. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump on Thursday suggested Iran shot down a Ukrainian airliner earlier this week — possibly by mistake.

“Well, I have my suspicions,” he told reporters following an energy event in the White House. “It’s a tragic thing. … Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side. … It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood.

“Some people say it was mechanical [failure]. I, personally, don’t think that’s even a question, personally,” Trump said.

The airliner went down amid Iran’s missile strikes on U.S. military facilities in neighboring Iraq, killing all 176 people on board. 

U.S. officials have yet to publicly state what may have caused the crash. Citing a senior U.S. intelligence official and an Iraqi intelligence official, Newsweek reported Thursday that the plane was shot down by a Russian-made and Iranian-operated missile. CNN, also citing unnamed officials, reported the U.S. increasingly believes Iran mistakenly shot down the airliner.

Iranian officials have refused to hand over the in-flight recorder, or “black box,” to the plane’s American manufacturer, Boeing. Trump said he would sign off on Tehran handing over the device to another country, like France, so its contents can be examined.

The plane went down as Iran launched missiles from its own soil at American military targets in Iraq, Tehran’s response to the Trump-ordered strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s lethal Quds Force. That was part of a weekslong back-and-forth between the two countries that had many lawmakers and foreign policy experts warning of war until both sides appeared to tamp down tensions Wednesday.

As tensions appeared to cool, the president announced he already has given the Treasury Department the go-ahead to further stiffen sanctions on Iran for its behaviors across the Middle East. It was his sanctions-based policy on Tehran that helped lead officials there to lash out at U.S. interests and targets across the region, Democrats and experts say.

On Thursday, Trump accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats of defending Soleimani, whom the U.S. government for years considered a terrorist leader. Trump designated the IRG a terrorist organization earlier this year.

“You know what I thought bothers me?” he asked rhetorically. “When I see a Nancy Pelosi trying to defend this monster from Iran, who's killed so many people. … He was the big roadside bomb guy — he would send them to Afghanistan, he would send them to Iraq. That was his favorite thing. He thought that was wonderful. He doesn’t think it’s wonderful anymore.”

As the House prepares to vote on a measure intended to limit his power to wage war on Iran, Trump told reporters a commander in chief should not be required to always get congressional approval for military operations because they often must make “split-second decisions.”

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