Middle East

Merkel's Flight to India Delayed by Iran

May 30: Thenew Airbus A340-300 of the German government waits at Berlin's Tegel airport.

May 30: Thenew Airbus A340-300 of the German government waits at Berlin's Tegel airport.  (AP)

BERLIN -- Iran set off a diplomatic row with Germany on Tuesday by closing its airspace to Chancellor Angela Merkel's plane as it flew to India and delaying her arrival there on an official visit, officials said.

Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador in Berlin to protest "the breach of international protocol," said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

"Iran's move to hinder the chancellor's trip is absolutely unacceptable," he said in a statement. "This is a lack of respect for Germany that we won't accept," said Westerwelle, who was on an official trip to Australia.

Iran had granted overflight permission to Merkel's plane before it left Berlin, but that was revoked after the chancellor was airborne, said the German government's press office.

Merkel's plane was forced to circle over Turkey for about two hours en route to India, said German government spokesman Steffen Seibert. He called it a violation of normal diplomatic privilege that Merkel had never experienced before.

Iran did not say why the permission was revoked, and a second plane carrying several of Merkel's ministers had no trouble transiting Iranian airspace on the way to the government consultations in India.

Christoph Heusgen, Merkel's top security and foreign policy adviser, led negotiations with Iran from aboard Merkel's plane and it was eventually allowed to fly over Iran, German news agency DAPD reported. Germany's Foreign Ministry was also involved in the talks.

Getting the permission involved "intense diplomatic interventions in Berlin and Tehran," a German government official said. "The reason for the temporary refusal to pass through the airspace is still unknown," said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Germany is part of the group of six nations negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program. The government in Berlin also supports sanctions against Iran, and a Germany-based Iranian bank was recently added to an EU sanctions list.

Iran is suspected of covertly developing nuclear weapons, but it denies that.

The flight marked Merkel's first official trip aboard her newly revamped government Airbus A340 Konrad Adenauer, Germany's equivalent to the U.S.'s Air Force One.