Tech probs delayed green signal to Merkel plane

Berlin: Iran on Wednesday clarified the move to close its airspace for German Chancellor Angela Merkel`s India-bound plane saying it was due to "technical problems", a day after Berlin termed it as unacceptable and summoned the Iranian envoy.

Merkel`s plane was flying to India yesterday but had to circle over Turkey for about two hours before it was permitted to enter Iran`s airspace.

"Merkel`s plane, along with two other planes, was flying to India. Both planes flew over Iran but the plane carrying the Chancellor was not given permission because of problems in giving `call sign` to the air controllers by the pilots," Iranian Ambassador to Germany, Alireza Sheikhattar, was quoted as saying by IRNA.

"Around 2:30 Tuesday morning, political director general in Germany`s Ministry of Foreign Affairs contacted me and after my contact with Tehran, the problem was solved in 20 minutes and the plane entered Iran`s airspace," Sheikhattar said.

"If German officials had informed us earlier, we would have solved it sooner," the Ambassador said.

When her reaction was sought during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi yesterday, 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 was allowed to go without any hassle.

In a statement in Berlin yesterday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had 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.

On being summoned to German Foreign Ministry, Iranian Ambassador Sheikhattar said he provided them with technical explanations he had received from Iran`s aviation officials and complained that the issue was technical and had occurred many times in many countries, including Germany.

"This is a common incident in private flights and there is no reason to make it so complicated and political," said the Ambassador.

On German media`s assertions that Turkey had mediated to solve the problem, Sheikhattar said that he was not aware of the news but he knew that Turkish officials had no contact with Iran`s embassy or Iran`s Foreign Ministry.

Stressing that the issue was a technical problem, the Ambassador said those who want to politicise it do not have good intentions.

"Islamic Republic of Iran expresses its policies in a transparent and clear way and if needed, does everything through legal and diplomatic procedures," he said.

"Iran is a strong country and does not need to resort to such trivial matters to express its political stance," concluded the Ambassador.