New Zealand has offered a diplomatic link between Iran and Canada and called for an "unimpeded" investigation into a Ukrainian Airlines plane crash near Tehran that killed all 176 people onboard.

Ukrainian Flight 752 crashed during take-off just hours after Iran launched a barrage of surface-to-surface missiles at US bases in Iraq in retaliation over the drone strike killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani last week.

US and Canadian officials say they believe it's "highly likely" was accidentally shot down by Iran. There were 63 Canadians among the dead.

Ukrainian plane crash in Iran: Missile strike or terrorism possible causes
Iran's threat to cut US off from oil
Iran launches missile attacks on US bases including Ain Assad in Iraq
$80m price on Donald Trump's head after Iranian assassination


Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters on Friday described the possibility as "disastrous news" and joined Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in calling for a full inquiry.

"We join others in calling for a thorough, independent and unimpeded investigation into the circumstances of the crash," Peters said.

New Zealand has an Embassy in Tehran while Canada doesn't, and Peters said New Zealand had offered to assist in the diplomatic response.

"New Zealand offers its deepest sympathies to the families of the 176 victims. It is a tragic loss of life for all countries involved," he said.

Security analyst Paul Buchanan said New Zealand had a better relationship with Iran than many other Western countries and could provide an important diplomatic link.

New Zealand troops have been training Iraqi forces at Camp Taji, near Baghdad, since 2015. Photo / Supplied
New Zealand troops have been training Iraqi forces at Camp Taji, near Baghdad, since 2015. Photo / Supplied

"They trust us a little better," Buchanan said.

"We could say for example if you don't want the Canadians to come in and do investigations of the wreckage, we can offer our civil aviation experts because we're neutral."

Iranian authorities say they have found the plane's "black boxes", which track data and communications, but it is not yet clear how much access will be provided to investigators from other countries.


Iran's officials have rejected claims the plane was shot down and have pointed to mechanical problems.

New Zealand's Iraq Mission

Meanwhile, former Defence Minister Wayne Mapp says a pause in escalation between Iran and the United States since Iranian missile strikes on Wednesday appears to have gone some way to lowering expectations New Zealand will end its mission in Iraq imminently.

"It appeared the reactions and counter-reaction would be more severe than they have been, so far," he said.

New Zealand has 45 personnel based at Camp Taji, near Baghdad, and five more in the city, and concerns were raised they could be caught in the crossfire between the US and Iran.

Their mission, which has involved training Iraqi forces since 2015, is already scheduled to finish in June.

Australia - whose troops are also based at Taji - on Thursday announced it would not be pulling out and Mapp said any decision on an early New Zealand withdrawal would be carried out in concert with other members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

While publicly New Zealand Government ministers have been restrained in their comments, saying security situation was being monitored, the Herald earlier reported officials were understood to have gone into contingency planning in case an evacuation was needed immediately after the drone strike that killed Soleimani.

The training mission at Taji was put on hold this week to focus on defending the base.

Buchanan said the future of the mission would likely depend on whether New Zealand troops could resume the training.

"If they don't there's no reason for them to stay. What's the point? They'll just be sitting around wasting taxpayer money," he said.