Iran denies overflight rights to Merkels plane

Berlin/New Delhi: Iran on Tuesday briefly closed its airspace to German Chancellor Angela Merkel`s aircraft en-route to India, triggering a diplomatic spat between two nations with Berlin declaring the incident as "unacceptable" and summoning the Iranian envoy.

Iranian Ambassador in Berlin was called to the Foreign Office and a strong protest was lodged, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after Merkel`s plane had to circle over Turkey for two hours before being given permission to overfly Iranian airspace in the wee hours of today.

Asked about her reaction during a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, Merkel said, "I have arrived safely and that is what is important."

However, she did not elaborate on the reasons behind such an unexpected incident, given that the first plane carrying her cabinet colleagues for the same trip were allowed to go without any hassle.

In a statement in Berlin, Westerwelle said, "Hindering the German chancellor`s passage over Iran is absolutely unacceptable. It shows a lack of respect towards Germany that we will not accept."

"Such a breach of international conventions will in no way be tolerated by Germany," he added.

The VVIP flight, which besides the German Chancellor had a large delegation on board, arrived two hours late in New Delhi.

Merkel`s flight was allowed to fly over the Iranian airspace – the normal flight route between Europe and India – following a hour-long negotiation with Tehran which was mediated by Turkey and involved the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.

"There has never been an incident like this," said German government spokesman Steffen Seibert.

"Strange start to Indian trip — Iran temporarily denies overflight to chancellor`s plane. Delayed landing in Delhi," Seibert wrote in a message on Twitter.

The Iranians delayed overflight rights to "Konrad Adenauer," the new German Airbus A340-300 VVIP plane, having already cleared a second aircraft carrying several members of Merkel`s cabinet, including Defence Minister Thomas de Maizi?re and Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich.

There aircraft was able to cross Iranian airspace without any problems. It had left Berlin before Merkel`s plane.

The Iranians did not give reason for the denial of overflight rights. Before the plane left Berlin last evening, it had been given permission to enter Iranian airspace, the German officials said.

However, the Iranian action is seen, in diplomatic circles, as a reaction to Germany`s decision to block the financial transactions through the Iranian banks based there for the oil deals between Tehran and India.