'Tech problem' delayed Merkel plane overflight: Iran

31st May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Iran on Tuesday blamed a "technical problem" after its airspace was briefly closed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's plane as she flew to India, delaying her arrival and sparking a diplomatic row.

"The problem affecting the overflight of Iranian airspace by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's plane was caused only by a technical question that was immediately resolved and it was able to continue," the foreign ministry said.

"The necessary authorisations were given for her plane to transit Iranian airspace, and the German embassy was informed of this," the official IRNA news agency quoted ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.

Parliament's website cited the head of the foreign affairs commission, Allaeddine Borujerdi, as blaming "an error by the German pilot in entering the wrong code to enter Iranian airspace, causing a two-hour delay in getting authorisation."

"Every day, hundreds of foreign aircraft fly over Iranian territory without any problem. If the pilot had entered the correct code, there would have been no problem," Borujerdi added.

"Chancellor Merkel's plane was heading to India with two other planes. The other two were accepted but Angela Merkel's flight was not authorised because of a problem with the call sign it sent," IRNA reported, quoting Iran's ambassador to Berlin, Ali Reza Sheikh Attar.

"At around 0230 in the morning, the political director of the (German) foreign ministry called me. After contacting Tehran, the problem was resolved in less than 20 minutes and the aircraft entered Iranian airspace," he said.

The problem could have been resolved faster if the German authorities "had made contact quicker," he said, and denied there was "any political aspect" to the incident.

Merkel, speaking at a news conference in New Delhi, declined to go into detail about the inconvenience, which saw her aircraft circle for two hours over Turkey before receiving permission to cross the Islamic republic.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the incident "shows a lack of respect towards Germany that we will not accept," and summoned the Iranian ambassador to Berlin in protest.

Berlin said Iran had refused entry to Merkel's flight despite having authorised her passage in advance, calling the affair "an unprecedented failure of international norms."

Germany is one of six world powers trying to convince Tehran to abandon sensitive nuclear work, which they fear is a front for a drive to develop an atomic arsenal. Iran denies such intentions.

© 2011 AFP

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