”We made a tragic mistake, and innocent people were killed through no intent of the United States. It seems to me compensation, as a humanitarian gesture, is appropriate.” Brent Scowcroft, President Ford’s national security adviser
July 6 1988
All 290 who were aboard the Iran airliner shot down by the USS Vincennes are presumed dead. The Reagan administration has begun a review to decide whether compensation should be paid to the relatives.
The United States contends that the shot down was justified in the context of the ongoing military operations in the Gulf. As such, the Reagan Administration claims that there is no legal obligation to pay any compensation. Reagan has stated that the incident was an act of self defense as defined by the UN Charter.
Both the White House and the US State Department have said that many questions need to be answered before the issue of compensation can be addressed.
”The whole question of talking about reparations or compensation is premature at this point,” said Phyllis E. Oakley, a State Department spokeswoman. ”That’s a question that can only be addressed when we have all the facts. That’s going to come about through the investigation that is now proceeding.”
Contrary to the concept of reparation, the notion of compensation does not imply intention or grave mistake form the author of the act.
The Pentagon begins its investigation today. Rear Admiral William N. Fogarty would lead an inquiry which is expected to be completed in two weeks.
The US has sent a message through the Swiss Embassy in Teheran to the Islamic Government. The five paragraph letter expresses deep regret for the tragedy. The letter insists that the USS Vincennes did not know that the plane was a civilian airliner.
The US did not apologize for the accident. Instead, the White House blamed the tragedy on Iran.
”The victims of this accident are only the latest innocent victims of a conflict which should have ended long ago,” Marlin Fitzwater, the White House spokesman, said.
Tehran did not reply to the US letter. Members of the House are urging the President to apologize and to pay compensation.
Commenting on the issue of direct apology to Tehran, House Speaker, Jim Wright of Texas said that ”if that would assuage the grief of the other aggrieved party, surely we could do that. Congress would support that if it were requested.”
Others go further and argue that the tragedy should prompt a rethinking of the current US-Iran relations.
”I think there’s an opportunity here for the nations of the world, particularly the United States and possibly Iran, to seize the moment and turn a tragedy, indeed a military accident that resulted in the loss of innocent lives, into a positive situation,” Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said at a news conference.
Robert C. McFarlane was Mr. Reagan’s national security adviser from 1983 through 1985. ”Paying compensation is a matter of established policy in a case like this. It is a routine thing when civilians are killed in a military engagement. It doesn’t imply an admission of guilt,” McFarlane said.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon backtracked from an early key assertion. The US Navy no longer asserts that the Iranian airliner had flown outside the official airway. This turn around only deepens the mystery of how the USS Vincennes radar confused a jumbo jet for a F-14.
Moreover, at the time of the shooting, the airplane was detected by another Navy ship, the frigate John H. Sides, at 12,000 feet and climbing in altitude. The Vincennes viewed the jetliner at 7,000 to 9,000 feet and descending.
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