Reagan Messaged Regrets to Iran Over Downed Plane
President Reagan sent a message to Iran on Sunday expressing “deep regret” over the shooting down of an Iranian airliner with 290 passengers aboard, the White House disclosed today.
The message said the United States did not deliberately target the aircraft and called the victims of the disaster “the latest innocent victims of a conflict that should have ended long ago,” presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.
Fitzwater said Reagan’s message, which was delivered through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, “indicated that first of all, that the United States expresses its deep regret to the government of Iran over the tragic loss of life.
“The statement noted the heightened state of tension which prevailed in the area. It noted the fact that there was no intention to target a civilian aircraft,” he added.
“It indicated that the United States had made repeated efforts to contact the aircraft and finally, it expressed our view that the victims of this accident were the latest innocent victims of a conflict that should have ended long ago.”
Fitzwater said there has been no response from Iran.
Asked if the message could be construed as an apology--a move that House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) suggested would be appropriate--Fitzwater said, “I won’t characterize it.”
Later Reagan told newsmen that he didn’t think further apology was needed.
Fitzwater said he had not previously announced the communication because he had been unaware of it until now.
President Reagan, who told Congress in a letter released today that he regards the latest incident in the Gulf as “closed,” plans no special meetings on the matter, Fitzwater said.
He said the President will be kept up to date at his regular intelligence briefings.
Navy investigators were expected to take two to three weeks to complete their inquiry into the affair.
Fitzwater, who was peppered with questions on the Iranian Airbus downing for more than an hour at his first news briefing since the incident occurred early Sunday, repeatedly sidestepped the issue of possible U.S. compensation for the victims’ families.
“That’s one of the issues that has not been considered at this point. The primary issue at the moment is the naval investigation,” he said, referring to an inquiry headed by Adm. William Fogarty.
Probers on Their Way
Fogarty and five other Navy investigators headed for the Gulf today to investigate why the U.S. warship Vincennes shot down the Iran Air A-300 Airbus, which was on a flight from Bandar Abbas to Dubai when it was blasted out of the sky by U.S. missiles.
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