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The US says Iran sought help over the president’s crash

Washington (AFP) – The United States said on Monday that arch-enemy Iran was seeking help after a helicopter crash that killed President Ebrahim Raisi, while Washington meanwhile offered condolences despite having “blood on his hands”.

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The State Department said Iran, which has had no diplomatic ties with Washington since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, reached out after Raisi’s aging helicopter crashed in foggy weather on Sunday.

“We were asked for help by the Iranian government,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

“We said we would be willing to help – something we would do with regard to any government in this situation,” he said.

“Ultimately, largely for logistical reasons, we were unable to provide that assistance.”

He declined to go into detail or describe how the two countries communicated. But he indicated that in the immediate aftermath, Iran was seeking help to find Raisi’s helicopter, which was killed along with its foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and seven others.

The crash came after the United States and Iran reportedly held their last low-key talks in Oman, aimed at boosting stability after open clashes between Iran and Israel.

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement offering “official condolences” for the deaths.

“As Iran elects a new president, we reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the report said.

President Joe Biden’s administration described condolences as standard and did not express support for Raisi, who as a judge presided over mass executions of political prisoners and under whose presidency authorities have cracked down on mass protests led by women.

“This was a man with a lot of blood on his hands,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters, saying Raisi was responsible for “horrendous” abuses.

However, Kirby said that “as in any other case, we certainly regret the loss of life in general and express official condolences where appropriate.”

The United States has often, but not always, expressed condolences in the past to leaders it opposes, with such messages passing through Joseph Stalin, Kim Il Sung, and Fidel Castro.

But the message of condolence, along with similar words from European countries, angered some opponents of the clerical state, who saw Raisi’s death as a reason to celebrate.

Masih Alinejad, a women’s rights activist who US investigators say was the target of an assassination plot in New York masterminded by Tehran, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Your compassion only pours salt on the wounds of the oppressed.”

No ‘safety impact’

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin indicated that the U.S. military has not changed its stance after the crash in Iran, where decisions are ultimately made by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“I don’t necessarily see a broader regional impact on security,” Austin told reporters.

He preemptively denied any U.S. role and said there was no reason to believe it was anything other than an accident.

“The United States had no role in that crash. That’s a fact, plain and simple,” Austin said.

“It could be any number of things: mechanical failure, pilot error, you name it,” he said.

The Iranian military has ordered an investigation. In the past, she has often blamed Israel and the United States for security incidents, both of which have hit Iranian targets in recent years.

Former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed ongoing US sanctions for hampering sales of aviation parts.

Asked about Zarif’s comment, Miller said: “Ultimately it is the Iranian government that is responsible for the decision to allow a 45-year-old helicopter to fly in what was described as poor weather conditions, and not any other actor.”