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News briefs: Iran denies that its missile shot down Ukrainian jetliner

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran on Friday denied Western allegations that one of its own missiles downed a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed outside Tehran, and called on the U.S. and Canada to share any information they have on the crash, which killed all 176 people on board.

Western leaders said the plane appeared to have been unintentionally hit by a surface-to-air missile just hours after Iran launched around a dozen ballistic missiles at two U.S. bases in Iraq to avenge the killing of its top general in an American airstrike last week.

"What is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane," Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran's national aviation department, told a press conference. 

"If they are really sure, they should come and show their findings to the world" in accordance with international standards, he added.

Hassan Rezaeifar, the head of the Iranian investigation team, said recovering data from the black box flight recorders could take more than a month and that the entire investigation could stretch into next year. He also said Iran may request help from international experts if it is not able to extract the flight recordings.

Crash may be grim echo of US downing of Iran flight in 1988

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Western allegation that Iran shot down a Ukrainian jetliner and killed 176 people offers a grim echo for the Islamic Republic, which found itself the victim of an accidental shootdown by American forces over 30 years ago. 

 The July 3, 1988 downing of Iran Air flight 655 by the U.S. Navy remains one of the moments the Iranian government points to in its decades-long distrust of America. They rank it alongside the 1953 CIA-backed coup that toppled its elected prime minister and secured Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's absolute power until he abdicated the throne before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

As recently as last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani referenced the attack in criticizing President Donald Trump's comments that U.S. forces had picked out 52 targets to be attacked in Iran if needed, one for each of the American hostages held after the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover. 

"Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290. #IR655," Rouhani wrote on Twitter. "Never threaten the Iranian nation."

The attack on the Iran Air flight followed what the U.S. Navy refers to as Operation Praying Mantis, a daylong naval battle in the Persian Gulf between American forces and Iran during the country's long 1980s war with Iraq. That battle came after the USS Samuel B. Robertson struck a mine that the Americans later accused Iran of laying in the shipping channels it was trying to keep open for Kuwaiti oil tankers amid the so-called "Tanker War."

Iraqi PM tells US to decide mechanism for troop withdrawal

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi has told the U.S. secretary of state to send a delegation to Iraq tasked with formulating the mechanism for the withdrawal of U.S troops from Iraq, according to a statement released Friday.

The statement, from the office of the Iraqi caretaker prime minister, said the request came in a telephone call between Abdul-Mahdi and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday night. It says Pompeo called the Iraqi premier. 

Abdul-Mahdi's comments to Pompeo suggests he was standing by his previous statements that U.S troops should leave Iraq despite recent signals toward de-escalation between Tehran and Washington following the tit-for-tat attacks that brought Iraq to the brink of a proxy war. 

Tensions eased on Wednesday when President Donald Trump signaled that Washington was stepping away from escalation. 

The Iraqi prime minister said his country rejects all violations against its sovereignty, including the barrage of ballistic missiles that Iranian forces fired targeting against U.S. troops in Iraq and also America's violation of Iraq's airspace in the airstrike that killed a top Iranian general last week. 

Analysis: Pelosi's delay tests public opinion on impeachment

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats know they don't have the votes to convict President Donald Trump when the Senate convenes as the Court of Impeachment. So they are pursuing the case in the court of public opinion.

It became a defining moment, one that stunned Washington, when Speaker Nancy Pelosi declined to immediately transmit the charges to the Senate after the House impeached Trump. 

The abrupt move vexed the president and his party, annoying some, angering others, and caused a political firestorm as the days turned to weeks. It's now approaching a month.

While the delay is producing an avalanche of theories and strategies about the sudden impasse, it hasn't much changed the widely expected final verdict: Trump's acquittal of charges he abused power and obstructed Congress in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. 

Yet in the lull, something else happened. New evidence and documents emerged, including emails showing more of the administration's internal deliberations over Trump's actions. Former White House national security adviser John Bolton announced he would be willing to appear, if a subpoena was sent. 

Australians leave homes as heat, winds escalate fire danger

EDEN, Australia (AP) — Thousands of people fled their homes and helicopters dropped supplies to towns at risk of nearby wildfires as hot, windy conditions Friday threatened already fire-ravaged southeastern Australian communities.

The danger is centered on New South Wales and Victoria, Australia's most populous states, where temperatures and wind speeds are escalating after a few days of relatively benign conditions.

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The New South Wales Rural Fire Service had warned that coastal towns south of Sydney including Eden, Batemans Bay and Nowra could again be under threat weeks after losing homes to the fires. By early evening Friday, the wildfires burning in that region were holding within containment lines, but a strong shift in winds predicted for later Friday could cause them to flare anew, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters.

"A long afternoon to go, a long night still to go, for all our firefighters and those affected by the fires," Fitzimmons said.

In neighboring Victoria, evacuation orders were issued in alpine areas, and Premier Daniel Andrews pleaded with residents to heed alerts and avoid complacency even though no fresh destruction was being reported.

As Iran and US take step back from the brink, Canada grieves

TORONTO (AP) — The worst had passed, it seemed, and the United States and Iran no longer appeared poised at the edge of war.

"All is well!" President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday night, days after a U.S. drone strike killed Iran's most powerful general, and Iran, after a barrage of missiles, had signaled it was stepping back from further escalation.

But 27 seconds before Trump's tweet, commercial flight trackers had lost contact with a Ukrainian International Airlines jet that had just taken off from Tehran's main airport. On board were 176 people, including 138 passengers on their way to Canada and at least 63 Canadian citizens and 11 Ukrainians. The plane, which never made a mayday call, slammed moments later into the ground.

Everyone on board died. They were students, newlyweds, doctors and parents. The youngest was a 1-year-old girl, Kurdia Molani, who was flying back home with her parents to the Toronto suburb of Ajax.

By late Thursday, Western leaders said that Iran had most likely shot down the jetliner with a surface-to-air missile — probably by accident. The loss of so many lives transformed the U.S.-Iran confrontation, which had seemed to conclude with limited bloodshed.

Harry, Meghan seek financial independence: Will that work?

LONDON (AP) — As part of a surprise announcement distancing themselves from the British royal family, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan declared they will "work to become financially independent" — a move that has not been clearly spelled out and could be fraught with obstacles.

The couple indicated in their statement Wednesday that they want to be free to work on their own terms while continuing to support the work of Queen Elizabeth II, Harry's grandmother. And that could be a problem, some royal watchers say.

"I don't think it is going to work, to be honest," said David McClure, a television producer and writer who examined the wealth of the royal family in his book "Royal Legacy."

"How can you be half in, half out? Half the week perform public duties and the other half earn your own income with TV, lectures, books? It is fraught with dangers," he said.

And the plan appeared not to have been coordinated with the palace, which quickly issued its own statement saying discussions "were at an early stage" and there were "complicated issues that will take time to work out."

Flaring tensions could kill Iran nuclear deal; to what end?

BERLIN (AP) — The landmark 2015 deal between Tehran and world powers aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons has been teetering on the edge of collapse since the United States pulled out unilaterally in 2018. The European Union says it will "spare no effort" to keep the deal alive, but with tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalating into open hostilities it seems increasingly unlikely that will be possible. 


The short answer is that every step Iran takes past the limitations of the deal reduces the so-called "break-out time" to produce a nuclear warhead — which is still something Iran insists it does not want to do. Before the deal, conservative estimates were that Iran was within five to six months of being able to produce a bomb, while some feared it was within two to three months. With the deal safeguards in place the break-out time was estimated to be more than a year. Diplomats involved note that means Iran could produce a single device in that time. It would take longer to build an arsenal and delivery system, though Tehran already has developed its own short and medium-range ballistic missiles with enough range to hit targets as far away as parts of Europe. 


Iran insists its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only, and the deal allows the country to run reactors to generate power. The deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, restricts the number and types of centrifuges Iran could use, puts limits on how much heavy water and enriched uranium it can stockpile, and restricts the purity level to which it can enrich uranium. Iran has had to grant inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to its facilities to verify its compliance. In return, Iran has received economic sanctions relief from the U.S., E.U. and the U.N. Security Council.

Boeing papers show employees slid 737 Max problems past FAA

Boeing employees knew about problems with flight simulators for the now-grounded 737 Max and apparently tried to hide them from federal regulators, according to documents released Thursday.

In internal messages, Boeing employees talked about misleading regulators about problems with the simulators. In one exchange, an employee told a colleague they wouldn't let their family ride on a 737 Max.

Boeing said the statements "raise questions about Boeing's interactions with the FAA" in getting the simulators qualified. But said the company is confident that the machines work properly.

"These communications do not reflect the company we are and need to be, and they are completely unacceptable," Boeing said in a statement. 

Employees also groused about Boeing's senior management, the company's selection of low-cost suppliers, wasting money, and the Max.