Iran delays Merkel's Delhi flight

Plane carrying German Chancellor forced to circle Turkey for 2 hours

Tehran sparked off a diplomatic row with Berlin by denying permission to Merkel’s aircraft ‘Konrad Adenauer’ to enter Iranian airspace on its way to India. It gave no specific reason for refusing permission but Berlin has reacted angrily.

The Airbus A 340 had to circle over Turkey for about two hours, resulting in delay in the German Chancellor’s arrival in New Delhi. Diplomatic sources here said Tehran had granted over-flight permission to Merkel’s plane before it left Berlin, but that was revoked when it was airborne.

The ‘Konrad Adenauer’ – the VVIP aircraft that the Head of the German government flies in – was scheduled to land in New Delhi at 8:30 am on Tuesday but landed about two hours late. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert called it a violation of normal diplomatic privilege and that the German Chancellor never had such an experience before.

Christoph Heusgen, the top security and foreign policy adviser of the German Chancellor, led negotiations with Tehran from aboard the ‘Konrad Adenauer’ and, after “intense diplomatic intervention” by Berlin, the aircraft was eventually allowed to fly over Iran.

Berlin initially opposed, but later supported European Union’s move to impose sanctions against Europäisch-Iranische Handelsbank or EIH, an Iranian bank based in Germany. The EU agreed to impose sanctions on the bank last week. In February 2011, Tehran and New Delhi agreed to set up a new mechanism for payments for the Iranian crude imported by India using euros through the EIH Bank, instead of using the old Asian Clearing Union route. The process however came under uncertainty due to EU sanctions on the bank.

Another aircraft that departed early from Berlin and was carrying several cabinet ministers and members of the German delegation to India however had no problem in crossing Iranian airspace and landed here on schedule.

“I have arrived safely to jointly launch along with Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh), the first Germany-India intergovernmental negotiations and that is what is important,” said Merkel in her reaction to Tehran’s action.

Merkel and Singh were addressing a joint news conference after they had a meeting and led the delegations of the respective countries in the intergovernmental negotiations.

Though Tehran cited no reason for denying over-flight permission, diplomatic sources in New Delhi pointed Tehran and Berlin had a tense relationship over Germany’s stand on Iran’s nuclear programme, as a member of NATO. Germany and five other nations are negotiating with Iran over the latter’s nuclear programme. Merkel’s government in Berlin also supports sanctions against Iran.

In an angry reaction, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that Tehran’s action was “completely unacceptable” and that it showed “a lack of respect towards Germany that we will not accept.” The German foreign ministry also summoned the Iranian Ambassador in Berlin, Ali Reza Sheikh Attar, to deliver Berlin’s complaint to Tehran with “great clarity.”

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