Iranian airbus tragedy
PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT, JULY 3, 1988
I am saddened to report that it appears that in a proper defensive action by the U.S.S. Vincennes this morning in the Persian Gulf an Iranian airliner was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz. This is a terrible human tragedy. Our sympathy and condolences go out to the passengers, crew, and their families. The Defense Department will conduct a full investigation.
We deeply regret any loss of life. The course of the Iranian civilian airliner was such that it was headed directly for the U.S.S. Vincennes, which was at the time engaged with five Iranian Boghammar boats that had attacked our forces. When the aircraft failed to heed repeated warnings, the Vincennes followed standing orders and widely publicized procedures, firing to protect itself against possible attack.
The only U.S. interest in the Persian Gulf is peace, and this tragedy reinforces the need to achieve that goal with all possible speed.
LETTER TO THE CONGRESS, JULY 4,1988
On July 3, 1988, the USS VINCENNES and USS ELMER MONTGOMERY were operating in international waters of the Persian Gulf near the Strait of Hormuz. (On July 2, the MONTGOMERY had responded to a distress signal from a Danish tanker that was under attack by Iranian small boats and had fired a warning shot, which caused the breaking off of the attack.) Having indications that approximately a dozen Iranian small boats were congregating to attack merchant shipping, the VINCENNES sent a Mark Ill LAMPS Helicopter on investigative patrol in international airspace to assess the situation. At about 1010 local Gulf time (2:10 a. m. EDT), when the helicopter had approached to within only four nautical miles, it was fired on by Iranian small boats (the VINCENNES was ten nautical miles from the scene at this time), The LAMPS helicopter was not damaged and returned immediately to the VINCENNES.
As the VINCENNES and MONTGOMERY were approaching the group of Iranian small boats at approximately 1042 local time, at least four of the small boats turned toward and began closing in on the American warships. At this time, both American ships opened fire on the small craft, sinking two and damaging a third. Regrettably, in the course of the U.S. response to the Iranian attack, an Iranian civilian airliner was shot down by the VINCENNES, which was firing in self-defense at what it believed to be a hostile Iranian military aircraft. We deeply regret the tragic loss of life that occurred. The Defense Department will conduct a full investigation.
The actions of U.S. forces in response to being attacked by Iranian small boats were taken in accordance with our inherent right of self-defense, as recognized in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, and pursuant to my constitutional authority with respect to the conduct of foreign relations and as Commander in Chief. There has been no further hostile action by Iranian forces, and, although U.S. forces will remain prepared to take additional defensive action to protect our units and military personnel, we regard this incident as closed. U.S. forces suffered no casualties or damage.
Since March 1987, I and members of my Administration have provided to Congress letters, reports, briefings, and testimony in connection with developments in the Persian Gulf and the activities of U . S. Armed Forces in the region. In accordance with my desire that Congress continue to be fully informed in this matter, I am providing this report consistent with the War Powers Resolution. I look forward to cooperating with Congress in pursuit of our mutual, overriding aim of peace and stability in the Persian Gulf region.
U.S. LETTER TO
THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL, JULY 6,1988
In accordance with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, I wish on behalf of my government to report that U.S. forces have exercised their inherent right of self-defense under international law by taking defensive action in response to an attack by the Islamic Republic of Iran against U.S. forces lawfully operating in international waters of the Persian Gulf
On July 3, 1988, the USS VINCENNES, which was operating in international waters in the Persian Gulf, sent a helicopter on an investigative patrol in international airspace in response to indications that approximately a dozen Iranian small boats were congregating to attack neutral merchant shipping.
At approximately 2:10 a.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) on July 3, 1988, a group of Iranian patrol craft fired on the U.S. helicopter. The helicopter, without returning fire, returned immediately to the VINCENNES, which was 10 nautical miles from the scene at the time of the incident.
At approximately 2:42 a.m. (Eastern Daylight Time), as the VINCENNES and another U.S. naval vessel were approaching the group of Iranian small boats, at least four of the small boats turned toward and began closing in on the U.S. warships. At that time, both U.S. ships opened fire on the small boats, sinking two and damaging a third.
In the course of the U.S. response to the Iranian attack, the VINCENNES fired in self-defense at what it believed to be a hostile Iranian military aircraft, after sending repeated warnings (to which the aircraft did not respond). Regrettably, the Iranian civilian airliner was shot down by the VINCENNES. As President Reagan said, “this is a terrible human tragedy.”
The United States deeply regrets the tragic loss of life that occurred and is conducting a full investigation. The United States will also cooperate in all appropriate respects with any International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) investigation into this incident.
It remains the policy of my government not to seek a military confrontation with Iran or a widening of the conflict in the area.
The actions of the U.S. forces in response to being attacked by Iranian small boats were taken in accordance with our inherent right of self-defense, as recognized in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.
The tragic loss of lives resulting from these actions underscores the dangers posed by the continuation of the Gulf War, the root cause of tension and violence in the area, and the urgency of bringing this senseless conflict to an early end.
The United States once again calls upon the international community, and particularly the members of the Security Council, to join us in redoubling our efforts to end the war as soon as possible and restore peace and security to the region, through the full and rapid implementation of Security Council Resolution 598.
HERBERT S. OKUN WHITE HOUSE STATEMENT, JULY 11, 1988
The President has reviewed U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf where our military forces are protecting vital interests of the free world. He has expressed his complete satisfaction with the policy and reiterated his belief that the actions of the U.S. S. Vincennes on July 3 in the case of the Iranian airliner were justifiable defensive actions. At the same time, he remains personally saddened at the tragic death of the innocent victims of this accident and has already expressed his deep regret to their families.
Prompted by the humanitarian traditions of our nation, the President has decided that the United States will offer compensation, on an ex gratia basis, to the families of the victims who died in the Iranian airliner incident. Details concerning amounts, timing, and other matters remain to be worked out.
It should be clearly understood that payment will go to the families, not governments, and will be subject to the normal U.S. legal requirements, including, if necessary, appropriate action by Congress. In the case of Iran, arrangements will be made through appropriate third parties. This offer of ex gratia compensation is consistent with international practice and is a humanitarian effort to ease the. hardship of the families. It is offered on a voluntary basis, not on the basis of any legal liability or obligation.
The responsibility for this tragic incident, and for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of other innocent victims as a result of tbe Iran-Iraq war, lies with those who refuse to end the conflict. A particularly heavy burden of responsibility rests with the Government of Iran which has refused for almost a year to accept and implement Security Council Resolution 598, while it continues unprovoked attacks on innocent neutral shipping and crews in the international waters of the gulf In fact, at the time of the Iran Air incident, U.S. forces were militarily engaged with Iranian forces as a result of the latter’s unprovoked attacks upon neutral ships and a U.S. Navy helicopter The urgent necessity to end this conflict is reinforced by the dangers it poses to neighboring countries and the deplorable precedent of the increasingly frequent use of chemical weapons by both sides, causing still more casualties.
Only an end to the war, an objective we desire, can halt the immense suffering in the region and put an end to innocent loss of life. Our goal is peace in the gulf and on land. We urge Iran and Iraq to work with the Security Council for an urgent comprehensive settlement of the war pursuant to Resolution 598. Meanwhile U.S. forces will continue their mission in the area, keenly aware of the risks involved and ready to face them.
WILLIAMSON, ICAO COUNCIL, MONTREAL, JULY 13, 19885
I appreciate having this opportunity to make a statement on behalf of the Government of the United States of America regarding Iran Air #655 and the tragic incident on July 3, 1988.
Immediately after the incident, the President of the United States expressed our deep regret over the loss of life in this tragedy. President Reagan’s spokesman also has announced that the United States is prepared to provide compensation to the families of the victims, of all nationalities, who died in this accident. These payments will be subject to normal U.S. legal requirements and consultations with the Congress. This compensation will be offered on an ex gratia, or voluntary, basis and not on the basis of any legal liability or obligation. We simply believe it is the right thing to do in these tragic circumstances.
As members of the council know, the United States initiated its own formal investigation immediately after the incident on July 3. This investigation will be thorough. There are many important outstanding questions. We intend to share with ICAO as much information as possible, consistent with the purposes of any ICAO investigation and the need to safeguard information relating to sensitive military matters. It is essential that this organization institute measures to prevent similar incidents in the future. We want to take steps toward improvements that will benefit civil aviation in the Persian Gulf We pledge our cooperation to the council and to the full ICAO membership.
In my statement today, I intend to address the following:
First, I will discuss the general background to the incident, including comment on the continuing conflict in the Persian Gulf;
Second, I will describe the specific situation confronting the captain of the U.S. S. Vincennes on July 3, 1988 , as the facts are known to us at this time; and
Third, I will discuss possible steps that the International Civil Aviation Organization might consider in order to avoid future incidents such as the one we address today. My government wants to work with ICAO on measures that can be taken, as soon as possible, to increase the safety of international civil aviation in the Persian Gulf-a fundamental goal of this organization and certainly of the United States. We hope this extraordinary session of the council will initiate work to that end.
General Background on the Situation
Let me begin by reviewing the situation that existed in the Persian Gulf on July 3 when theincident involving Iran Air #655 occurred.
This tragedy occurred in the context of the continuing war between Iran and Iraq. Not only has this war caused incalculable damage to Iran and Iraq but many neutral nations and innocent people have suffered as well. The conflict has been a threat to the stability and territorial integrity of nations in the gulf whose security long has been of concern to the United States.
The accident cannot be considered in isolation. This war has gone on for almost 8 years, despite the UN Security Council’s mandatory call, in Resolution 598, for an immediate cease-fire and for the withdrawal of all forces to internationally recognized boundaries. If Iran had heeded the decision of the UN Security Council, the incident involving Iran Air #655 would not have occurred.
It has been suggested that the U.S. naval presence in the gulf is at fault in this incident. My government rejects that contention. We are in the gulf to preserve peace. Our naval presence in international waters has been augmented in order to contain the effect of the Iran-Iraq conflict, to assist the countries of the region, and to protect U. S.-flag shipping. As tensions in the gulf diminish, our presence-and, no doubt, the presence of other Western navies-will be reduced to more traditional levels.
In the meantime, it is clear that the safety of neutral shipping and air traffic is a major victim of the wan Innocent ships have been attacked, and innocent civil airliners have had to alter their courses in order to avoid inadvertent confrontations in an area of potential hostilities.
The incident on July 3, was in fact, an accident. But it was an accident that was directly related to the unresolved Iran-Iraq conflict. Indeed, in September 1987, a general warning-a Notice to Airmen, or NOTAM-was issued by the U.S. Government regarding flights within the Persian Gulf area, specifically emphasizing the critical importance and the method of aircraft identification. In November 1987, you, Mr President [Assad Kotaite], wrote to the authorities of states in the Persian Gulf to bring to their attention the “hazardous situation for aircraft operating in that area.”
In addition, U.S. naval vessels have issued warnings to civil aircraft on numerous occasions to alter their courses in order to avoid inadvertent confrontations. My government appreciates that there are concerns and sensitivities relating to military warnings to civil aircraft. But these warnings have been issued only because of the concern of tbe United States about the safety of civil aviation. I must add that not all civil aircraft have heeded these warnings. In particular, it is our understanding that some Iranian aircraft have continued to fly into and over hostile zones, despite repeated warnings. Specific Situation Confronting the Vincennes
This was the general atmosphere pertaining in the gulf at the time of this incident on July 3. But let us look more closely at the specific situation.
I invite each member of the council to consider the circumstances facing the captain of the U.S.S. Vincennes, based on the knowledge that we have now. The ship was, at the time of the incident, in international waters outside the zone of exclusion declared by Iran. U.S. forces were on heightened alert because of reports about the possibility of Iranian attack against U.S. ships on the U.S. Independence Day, the Fourth of July. On the afternoon preceding the incident, Iranian F-14s approached another U.S. cruiser and were warned away after closing to within a few miles of this ship.
Only a few hours later on July 2, a Danish ship was attacked by Iranian boats and requested assistance from U.S. forces. At about 7:20 a.m. on July 3, a Pakistani ship issued a distress call, again due to attacks by Iranian boats. Later, a Liberian ship also was threatened. At about 9:25 a.m. local time on July 3, the Vincennes had sent her helicopter on patrol to investigate reports that Iranian boats were closely following a vessel of the Federal Republic of Germany. That helicopter was fired upon, and it returned to the Vincennes.
A threatening trend was clearly developing. Iranian fighters had pressed to within only a few miles of a Navy cruiser, four neutral ships had either been attacked or threatened, and Vincennes’ own helicopter had been shot at by Iranian gunboats.
As the Vincennes and another U.S. naval vessel then approached the group of Iranian boats that had fired upon the U.S. helicopter, at least four of the boats turned toward the U.S. ships with obvious hostile intentions. Both U.S. ships began to exchange fire with the gunboats, sinking two of the Iranian boats and damaging a third. This fighting between U.S. and Iranian vessels took place before, during, and after the incident involving Iran Air #655.
With the Vincennes already involved in this exchange of fire with attacking surface vessels, the radar on the Vincennes suddenly showed a plane in the vicinity of the joint militarycivilian airfield at Bandar-e Abbas and heading directly for the Vincennes. Let me add that Iranian F-14 fighters are known to be based at Bandar-e Abbas, which was the site of departure for Iran Air #655. Despite repeated efforts by the Vincennes to establish contacts with the unidentified aircraft, the plane did not respond to the voice transmissions on international air distress and military air distress frequencies. An electronic IFF [identification of friend or foe] interrogation from the Vincennes indicated both a mode II and a mode III IFF response. Mode II normally is associated with military aircraft, and this particular mode II response historically has been associated with F-14s flown by Iran in the gulf It must be noted as well that military aircraft also are capable of responding with mode 111.
I think council members will agree that it was reasonable in these circumstances for the captain of the Vincennes to believe that he might soon come under attack by an Iranian military aircraft sent to assist the Iranian boats that were involved in an exchange of fire with the Vincennes. The plane was not far away, given the speed capabilities of modern aircraft. Time was short. Indeed, the captain had only a few brief minutes from the time the aircraft was spotted until it could be expected to be directly over the Vincennes.
Nevertheless, the captain avoided immediate air defensive action even though the surface gun battle continued. At some risk to his ship, in the extremely limited time available, he sought to confirm the identity of the plane, which was observed to alter a normal climb and began descending while heading rapidly toward him. Repeatedly, he asked the plane to identify itself and turn away. Each time he was met with silence, only to have radar show the plane moving closer Ultimately, as the risk of imminent danger reached an extreme point and while still under attack by Iranian gunboats, the captain felt compelled to take action to protect his men and his vessel from what then appeared to be an air attack in support of the Iranian surface combatants. From the time the captain first considered the approaching aircraft to be hostile, he had only 240 sec onds-4 minutes-to reconcile the menacing trend the Iranians had exhib ited over the past 24 hours. He waited until the very last minute to defend his ship from an air attack.
Given the overall tension of the sit uation, the history of attacks on U.S. flag vessels, and the immediate situation confronting the captain of the Vincennes, it is not difficult to imagine how this scenario developed. Nor is it reasonable to believe that there is a single focus of responsibility.
Those in this council who deal with the technology of aviation know that there have been great technological advances in this field. But we also know that technology has its limitations. Radar today can perform services only vaguely dreamed about a few short years ago. But often it cannot identify the size, type, or mission of an aircraft. It cannot divine the intentions of a pilot who does not identify himself and does not identify his purpose as he flies directly into a scene of hostilities.
In the end, the captain of a ship must make a judgment on the basis of the information available to him. It is his solemn responsibility to protect the men under his command. That is what happened in the case of Iran Air #655. It is important to understand the entire context of events during that 24-hour period on July 2 and 3. Everyone has the deepest regret for the tragic loss of the lives on board Iran Air #655. But fair-minded people must recognize the difficult options put before a captain who had to make this critical decision in a very short period and while under continuing attack by surface vessels.
At the same time, I think we must recognize that Iranian civil aviation authorities must have known there was conflict in the waters of the gulf If they did not, they should have known, and they should have taken steps to prevent the plane from flying into an area where fighting was in progress. Indeed, Iranian vessels were attacking U.S. naval vessels at the very moment that Iran Air #655 took off from Bandar-e Abbas. The plane headed straight for the scene of the conflict and failed to heed, or even answer, the repeated warnings and requests for identification. Some degree of responsibility must be taken by Iran for putting its aircraft in this vulnerable position. The innocent victims on Iran Air #655 are just the latest among the hundreds of thousands of casualties in a needless war which should have ended long ago.
Looking Ahead Nevertheless, the important question is where we go from here. We can and must agree to take all appropriate measures to ensure that such tragedies do not recur
First of all, we believe it would be useful for the council to ask the ICAO Secretary General to conduct a factfinding investigation on the incident of July 3, with the objective of identifying possible measures for the improvement of civil aviation in the gulf, and to report back to this council. The United States is prepared to cooperate in all appropriate respects with an ICAO investigation and is convinced that, as a result of the review by this council, the difficulty of the complex situation in the Persian Gulf will be understood better and appropriate procedures to promote civil aviation safety in that region can be implemented. Only a thorough investigation can help resolve the many questions and anomalies surrounding the incident on July 3.
My government trusts that all the concerned governments will give this investigation their full support. In particular, we urge the Government of Iran to cooperate fully by providing ICAO with the flight data and cockpit voice recorders and any other specific information which can help determine the actual facts of the situation and resolve any anomalies.
Let me affirm my own government’s intention to cooperate with the investigation. We are working to complete our own investigation as quickly as possible and will make information available, consistent with safeguarding the rights of individuals and military security matters.
Second, my government believes that this council and this organization must consider soon whether new steps can be taken which would help the situation relating to international civil aviation safety in the Persian Gulf area. It is apparent that further improvements are needed in international operating practices and that other steps can be taken within the international civil aviation community which clarify existing rules or procedures and enhance their effectiveness in avoiding tragic accidents. My government stands ready to assist in this process. We need not await the result of any investigation to begin consideration of possible steps to make civil aviation more safe and more secure in the Persian Gulf area.
To be more specific, let me list some examples of areas that may have some immediate practical application regarding civil aviation in the Persian Gulf area.
* Civil air routes in the gulf might be restructured, where possible, to minimize contact with areas of military activity
* Alternate routes might be opened.
* New minimum altitudes might be set for civil aircraft operating over water
* Transponder equipment used by civil aircraft might be controlled more carefully to ensure that the identity of an airliner is unambiguous to all military and civil air traffic service facilities.
* Radio communications might be improved to ensure that warnings to airline pilots are communicated, received, and given a prompt response.
These are just some examples of steps that might be followed. Other ideas will undoubtedly emerge as we discuss these topics, both now and after an investigation. Let us keep our minds open and focused on taking truly constructive steps that can serve to prevent similar actions in the future. When the council considers the report from the Secretary General about Iran Air #655, it may wish to initiate a review of ICAO documents to determine the status of their current implementation and the need for possible improvements.
Finally, let me make clear that the risk of future tragedies such as the downing of Iran Air #655 on July 3 will remain so long as the senseless and tragic war in the Persian Gulf continues. All of us must cooperate in the United Nations so that this conflict can be brought to an end. The Government of Iran is the only party to the conflict which has refused to express a willingness to comply with the UN Security Council’s mandatory decision in Resolution 598. In particular, Iran must be urged by all responsible parties to summon the political will to end a conflict which has claimed so many innocent victims.
In closing, the U.S. Government remains committed to the safety of international civil aviation. In particular, we reaffirm our support for the International Civil Aviation Organization and its fundamental objectives of promoting the safety of international civil aviation and ensuring its orderly growth throughout the world. Our cooperation in this investigation will be further evidence of our support for this body.
My government has been in the forefront of leading aviation nations in proposing measures to ensure safety and security in civil aviation, and that commitment will continue. Members of this council know that the United States calls for and expects a great deal on the part of other nations regarding safety precautions for international civil aviation. We will do no less than we request of others.
This council has a long history of careful deliberation and of fairness and wisdom in its judgments. My government trusts that its members, as in past incidents, will reach its conclusions only after all of the facts have been received. We look forward to joining with the other members of this council in a search for solutions to avoid tragic incidents such as the one involving Iran Air #655. In doing so, we can, together, reaffirm the role of ICAO in making air travel safe for all our citizens.
VICE PRESIDENT BUSH, UN SECURITY COUNCIL, JULY 14, 1988
I have come here today to represent the United States, at the request of President Reagan, because of the importance of the issues at stake-not just the terrible human tragedy of Iran Air #655 but the continuing conflict between Iran and Iraq and its implications for international commerce in the Persian Gulf
Having been my country’s permanent representative to this body, I know what a grave responsibility the council bears and the good it can do when it acts with realism and wisdom. We are in urgent need of realism and wisdom now.
The Persian Gulf is a region of vital importance to the United States and the economy of the world. American and European forces are in the gulf, with the support of the states of the area, to meet a vital need-to help ensure the unimpeded now of oil and to keep neutral commerce moving in the face of a very real threat to innocent shipping. This is our legal right.
Iranian mines, deliberately sown, have disrupted innocent passage and damaged unarmed merchant vessels and a U.S. naval ship in international waters. Iranian small boat attacks on nonbelligerent merchant ships continue unabated. These actions are in blatant violation of international law. They give the lie to Iran’s assertions that it supports freedom of navigation in the gulf
We have increased the size of our forces from traditional levels to protect U.S. -flag shipping and to assist other neutral vessels under unlawful attack when they request assistance. Five European navies in addition-to our own-a total of some 43 ships-are now in the gulf to counter Iran’s reckless behavior toward neutral ships engaged in lawful commerce. I am proud of our leadership in meeting this challenge. Together, we have made it clear that we will keep the Persian Gulf open, no matter what the threat. I am here to reaffirm, to those who depend on us and to those who would threaten us, that we will not alter this course.
The critical issue confronting this body is not the how and why of Iran Air #655. It is the continuing refusal of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to comply with Resolution 598, to negotiate an end to the war with Iraq, and to cease its acts of aggression against neutral shipping in the Persian Gulf. The victims of Iran Air #655 are only the most recent casualities of a brutal and senseless war that has brought immense pain and suffering to the people of both sides.
Iran long ago could have accepted, and can still accept, an honorable end to the war. As a first step, it should declare its readiness unequivocally to comply with Resolution 598-today, for the first time, before this body. It can act now to end the unspeakable sacrifices the people of both Iran and Iraq are being asked to make. What possible objective could be worth the human suffering and pain, the hundreds of thousands of casualties, and the economic devastation the war has caused on both sides?
A particularly horrifying aspect of the Iran-Iraq war is the increasingly routine use of chemical weapons. Who can forget the pictures of entire families lying dead in the streets of their villages, innocent of anything, yet killed in this savage way?
The United States was the first nation publicly to condemn the use of chemical weapons in the war as a blatant violation of the Geneva protocols. We fully support Security Council Resolution 612, which demands an immediate end to chemical warfare by both parties. No country should think it can use chemical weapons with impunity.
We here in the council have a special responsibility to help bring this war to an end. Almost a year ago today, on July 20, 1987, this council responded to the hopes of the world with the unanimous adoption of Resolution 598. The United States played a leading role in the adoption of that resolution. Its provisions are familiar. It provides a comprehensive framework for an immediate end to the wan
Resolution 598 had a unique, mandatory character In adopting Resolution 598, the members of the Security Council knew exactly what they were doing in ordering an immediate end to the conflict without the agreement of either art
Almost a year has passed, and the bloodshed continues unchecked. The time has come for action to bring this war to an end. I call today on both sides to accept an immediate and comprehensive permanent cease-fire-on land and sea and in the air. Let that be the first step in the full implementation of Resolution 598, leading directly to prompt withdrawal to international borders, return of all prisoners of war, and establishment of an impartial body to look into responsibility for the conflict. Let that stop the bloodshed. Let that pave the way for an enduring peaceful resolution.
I met this morning with the Secretary General to commend his tireless efforts to end the war and to promise our strong support for his mediation efforts. I urge the members of the Security Council-and particularly its permanent members-to do likewise and to make clear that they will not support efforts to delay the immediate implementation of Resolution 598 in all of its provisions.
We must not lose sight of one basic fact: Iraq has declared its readiness to comply with Resolution 598 as a basis for a settlement, and Iran has not. Instead of expressing willingness to comply with the resolution and negotiating its implementation in good faith, Iran has played for time and maneuvered for diplomatic advantage-and the Iranian people have paid a heavy price.
We respect Iran’s right to air its grievances. But Iran cannot have it both ways. Iran cannot simultaneously complain to this body and defy it.
The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has refused to say plainly and clearly that it Will comply with the mandatory decision of the Security Council. Iran must not be permitted to choose those provisions of Resolution 598 it likes and ignore the others. Nor can Iraq be permitted to rest on verbal adherence to Resolution 598, while avoiding cooperation with the Secretary General in finding practical ways to implement the resolution.
As for the immediate matter at hand-the unfortunate destruction of Iran Air #655-many of the circumstances remain unclear. Our own military investigation is underway. We will also cooperate with any investigation that is conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an we trust that the Government of Iran will do the same. We want all the relevant facts to be brought to light as quickly as possible.
But one thing is clear: The U.S.S. Vincennes acted in self-defense. This tragic accident occurred against a back drop of repeated, unjustified, unprovoked, and unlawful Iranian attacks against U.S. merchant shipping and armed forces, beginning with the mine attack on the U.S. S. Bridgeton in July 1987. It occurred in the midst of a naval attack initiated by Iranian vessels against a neutral vessel and, subsequently, against the Vincennes when it came to the aid of the innocent ship in distress.
Despite these hostilities, Iranian authorities failed to divert Iran Air #655 from the area. They allowed a civilian aircraft loaded with passengers to proceed on a path over a warship engaged in battle. That was irresponsible and a tragic error.
The information available to Capt. Will Rogers, the captain of the Vincennes, indicated that an Iranian military aircraft was approaching his ship with hostile intentions. After seven unanswered warnings, he did what he had to do to protect his ship and the lives of his crew. As a military commander, his first duty and responsibility is to protect his men and his ship.
The United States has never willfully acted to endanger innocent civilians, nor will it ever. But I can also assure you that the United States will never put its military in a dangerous situation and deny them tbe right to defend themselves.
We are all accustomed by now to hearing irresponsible charges from the Iranian Government. There have been many particularly egregious statements concerning this tragic incident.
I will not dignify with a response the charge that we deliberately destroyed Iran Air #655. The Foreign Minister of Iran knows better. He knows that this tragedy was an accident. He also knows that by allowing a civilian airliner to fly into the area of an engagement between Iranian warships and U.S. forces in the gulf, Iran must bear a substantial measure of responsibility for what has happened.
I call on Iran today to reroute civilian air traffic away from areas of active hostilities. Yesterday, the U.S. representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization advocated an investigation by the ICAO into the Iran Air incident and immediate consideration of appropriate measures to ensure the safety of civil aviation in the gulf
The terrible disaster of Iran Air #655 fills our hearts with sorrow. Our reaction to this tragedy transcends political differences and boundaries. As Americans, we share the grief of the families of the victims, whatever their nationalities.
It is that strongly felt sense of commonhumanity that has led our government to decide that the United States will provide voluntary, ex gratia compensation to the families of those who died in the crash of Iran Air #655. We make this offer as a humanitarian gesture-not as a matter of legal obligation but out of a sense of moral compassion, reflecting the value we place on human life. We hope that compensation will help ease the pain of those who have suffered a loss, even as we recognize that nothing we can do or say can ever bring back their loved ones.
In the case of Iranian victims, we will take appropriate measures to ensure that the money nows directly to the families and not to the government; we will provide none of these funds to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Indeed, we will provide no compensation until mechanisms are in place to ensure that the money goes only to the families of the victims.
The time has come-indeed, the time is long past-for us to rededicate ourselves to the cause of peace. The Iran Air tragedy should reinforce our determination to act. It should remind those who would prefer to ignore the terrible human cost of the Iran-Iraq war and the threat it poses to the security of the Persian Gulf-those who find reasons to delay rather than reasons to act for peace-that their complacency carries a heavy price.
The United States has one overarching goal in the Persian Gulf That goal is peace. Peace means cessation of the killing. Peace means a definitive end to the war. Peace means total freedom of passage through the straitstotal freedom of ships to sail without risk in international waters. Peace also means nations living without the fear of threats or intimidation from their neighbors.
To this end, we will continue to defend our interests and support our friends while remaining steadfastly neutral in the war. As long as this conflict continues, we and other Western nations will work to contain the threat to freedom of navigation and peaceful commerce in a waterway that is vital to the economies of the world. Our naval presence is welcomed by peaceful nations and is a threat to no one. But we will respond firmly if we are threatened.
The implementation of Resolution 598 would enable the United States to return to the modest naval presence in the gulf we have maintained for more than 40 years, with the support of the gulf states. We look forward to that day.
But make no mistake: until that day, we will do whatever it takes to maintain freedom of navigation in this vital area of the world and to take whatever actions we must to protect our forces there. We will not let down our friends and allies. We will not be intimidated by reckless attacks or terror. Our commitment to freedom and peace demands this, and nothing less, from the United States of America.
COPYRIGHT 1988 U.S. Government Printing Office
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