The top Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives sidestepped questions today about whether the Trump administration should have warned Canada of its plan to kill a top Iranian general — while insisting the U.S. shares no blame for the deaths of 176 people aboard Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752.
"The president made the right decision," House minority leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters today in Washington, D.C.
"There is no blame here for America. America stood up once again for freedom. Iran went past a red line they had not gone past before, killing a U.S. citizen. Iran shot down an innocent, commercial airliner. There's no doubt where the blame lies."
In an interview with Global National's Dawna Friesen on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indirectly blamed rising tensions in the Middle East for the destruction last week of Flight PS752 just after takeoff outside Tehran.
Iranian leaders admitted Saturday that Iran's Revolutionary Guard shot down the Boeing 737-800 using surface-to-air missiles. Of the 176 people on board, 57 were Canadians.
"I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families," Trudeau said.
"This is something that happens when you have conflict and ... war. Innocents bear the brunt of it. And it is a reminder why all of us need to work so hard on de-escalation, on moving forward to reduce tensions and find a pathway that doesn't involve further conflict and killing."
Iran and the U.S. lurched to the brink of open war when a U.S. drone strike killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani Jan. 3 in Baghdad. International observers and Trump's domestic critics argue the sudden decision to kill another country's military leader destabilized the security climate in the region — making miscalculations like the one that apparently led to the downing of Flight PS752 more likely.
Asked whether the administration of U.S. President Donald should have warned Canada of the plan to kill Soleimani, McCarthy ducked the question by citing Iranian acts of aggression in the region, including an Iranian-backed assault on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad in late December and a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that killed an American civilian contractor.
"I think Soleimani should've been killed," he said. "I think if he had been held accountable for his actions for decades before ... the American would be alive. And Trudeau did not have to mention Iran because the facts are purely on Iran ... Trudeau is right about what Iran had been doing."
Bruce Heyman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Canada under President Barack Obama, tweeted today that Trudeau was correct to state that "escalation" made the crash more likely.
Heyman told CBC News that the Trump administration "owed Canada advance notice of this action."
"[With] any ally, your relationship is based on trust ... you rely on your ally to communicate with you, to collaborate with you, to work as a team," he said. "This fog of war was created as a result of the escalating tension that was a direct result of the targeting of Qassem Soleimani."
A senior Canadian government official, speaking on background today, cautioned against anyone interpreting Trudeau's comments as the prime minister blaming Trump for the crash. The official said the PM's message since the crash has been a consistent call for de-escalation by all the involved parties.
"That's not a single finger pointed at any one [president]," the senior official said.
Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican congressman from Nebraska, told CBC News that while U.S. officials "should have tried" to warn Canada in advance of the strike against Soleimani, he blamed the operation's "short-notice time frame" for the lack of a heads-up.
"Our heart goes out to our Canadian friends because we know how heartbreaking that is," he said. "I don't think putting the responsibility on President Trump was correct. The real responsibility was Iran. Iran shot down that airliner.
"The Russians are the ones who are selling Iran high-end surface-to-air missile equipment that they do not know how to operate ... So you can put some of this on Russia ..."
Rep. William Keating, a Democrat representing Massachusetts, said the U.S. should be "working with our allies" in the region, including Canada.
"Well, the Iranians are responsible for that shootdown of the plane. They're responsible, that's the reality of it," he said. "But do we want more tragedies?
"My heart breaks for those families that lost their lives in that terrible, terrible incident."
In his conversation with Global News, Trudeau was asked to react to a tweet from Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain blaming the "narcissist in Washington" for creating the anxious climate that led to the destruction of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752.
"I've heard many Canadians express a range of, of conclusions, of emotions, outrage, grief, loss," Trudeau said. "And it doesn't surprise me to see a range of conclusions and messages coming from all Canadians ..."
And while the PM acknowledged there isn't "a lot of trust" in the Canada-Iran relationship, the regime's admission of fault "shows there is a willingness to move forward and take responsibility."
The unnamed Trudeau government official said Trudeau has been treading carefully in public since this crisis began. Even after reports began to circulate suggesting Iranian involvement in the crash, the PM suggested that the missiles may have been fired in error — a move calculated to give Tehran room to "get to the truth" without having to be "dragged to the truth," said the official.
Outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer today called on the Trudeau government to "immediately" list Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. The unnamed government official said doing so now might interfere with efforts to investigate the crash and secure the return of Canadian victims' remains.