Germany dismisses Iranian blame over Merkel flight

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Berlin on Wednesday dismissed Iranian allegations that an error by a German pilot led to Tehran briefly closing its airspace to Chancellor Angela Merkel's plane, sparking a diplomatic row.

Merkel was en route to India overnight Monday to Tuesday when Iranian authorities refused her overflight rights, forcing her plane to circle for two hours over Turkey before receiving permission to cross into Iran.

The incident led the German government to summon the Iranian ambassador Tuesday, and a defence ministry spokesman insisted Wednesday that Berlin had "correctly followed" international procedures to the letter.

The spokesman said Germany had applied for overflight permission with Iranian authorities on April 27 and received it on May 29.

He added that Merkel's plane had already crossed into Iran when local authorities turned it back.

"To even enter the airspace of another country, permission is required," he noted.

Iran's foreign ministry said Tuesday that a technical problem caused the delay but it was "immediately resolved" and Merkel's flight was able to continue.

However the Iranian parliament's website quoted 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.

German state secretary at the foreign ministry, Wolf-Ruthart Born, told Iranian ambassador Ali Reza Sheikh Attar Tuesday that the incident was "unprecedented" and violated international conventions.

Born said Berlin expected Tehran to avoid such problems in future.

© 2011 AFP

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