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House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, on Jan. 9, 2020.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The top Republican in the House of Representatives says the U.S. bears no blame for Iran shooting down a passenger plane carrying dozens of Canadians, pushing back on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s contention that escalating tensions in the Middle East led to the disaster.

Kevin McCarthy’s direct references to the missile strike on Flight 752 were unusual for a top ally of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said very little about the tragedy that killed 176 people even as he has repeatedly criticized Iran in recent days.

“There’s no blame here for America. America stood up once again for freedom,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters Tuesday when asked about Mr. Trudeau’s comments. “Iran shot down an innocent commercial airliner. There’s no doubt where the blame lies.”

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Trudeau says Canada wasn’t warned of Soleimani strike, says crash victims would be alive if not for U.S.-Iran tensions

The majority of the Ukraine International Airlines flight’s passengers were bound for Canada, and 57 were Canadian citizens.

The Prime Minister had said Mr. Trump did not warn Canada before he ordered the killing of General Qassem Soleimani two weeks ago. The strike on the top Iranian general prompted Iran to bomb U.S. military bases in Iraq last week. That same night, Iran shot down the plane, which the Iranian government says its military mistook for an American cruise missile.

“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,” Mr. Trudeau said in a Monday interview with Global News. “This is something that happens when you have conflict and war. Innocents bear the brunt of it.”

Mr. McCarthy argued Iran is solely to blame for tensions in the Middle East. Iranian-backed militias killed a U.S. contractor and laid siege to the American embassy in Baghdad in the days before Mr. Trump ordered Gen. Soleimani’s death.

“Yes, I agree that Iran is escalating things in the Middle East,” he said. “Trudeau is right about what Iran has been doing.”

Mr. Trump has expressed support for protesters in Iran several times in recent days, and also regularly defended his decision to have Gen. Soleimani killed. But he has steered clear of directly addressing the downing of the plane, which caused the protests.

No Americans died in the tragedy, which killed citizens of Iran, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and Britain, along with Canada. Mr. Trump has also appeared to be ratcheting down tensions with Tehran, opting to retaliate for the bombing of U.S. bases with economic sanctions rather than another military operation.

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Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada, said the President should have informed Ottawa – which has hundreds of troops stationed in Iraq as part of the coalition against the Islamic State terrorist group – before killing Gen. Soleimani. He said Mr. Trump “owes Canadians an apology."

“Iran holds responsibility for its military; Trump holds responsibility for creating the environment,” he said in an interview. “This definitely will impact the decision-making of our allies in future when the U.S. says, ‘Can you come help us with this?’ Relationships are based on trust and when you break that trust, it takes time to earn it back.”

Democrats, meanwhile, prepared Tuesday to push forward on a Senate motion ordering the President not to launch further attacks on Iran without permission from Congress.

“We believe [it] will get 51 votes that is needed to pass. And so we will work out the timing,” Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic Leader, said.

Some Republican senators have already said they will break ranks with their party’s majority in the chamber to support the Democratic move. A similar measure passed the House last week. The two parties disagree whether such congressional resolutions are actually binding on Mr. Trump.

The Democrats have argued that Gen. Soleimani’s killing was not justified given the risk of heightened tensions in the Middle East.

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The Trump administration’s rationale for the death has changed several times. The President has insisted Gen. Soleimani had to die to prevent imminent attacks on U.S. embassies. His Defense Secretary, however, has said there was no intelligence to show Gen. Soleimani was planning such attacks.

In recent days, Mr. Trump and his allies have instead argued that Gen. Soleimani was killed to send Tehran a message.

“We don’t yet know if Soleimani will prove irreplaceable, but his death will significantly disrupt Iran’s death machine,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican Leader, said on the floor of the chamber Tuesday.

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