Merkel lands late in India after Iran blocks plane
Iran temporarily withdrew flyover rights on Tuesday for a plane carrying German Chancellor Angela Merkel to India, forcing it to circle over Turkey for almost two hours before restoring the rights, Reuters reported.
"We have never experienced anything like this before," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said. He declined to criticise Iran but said the incident was "unusual to say the least".
A Reuters journalist travelling with Merkel said Iran withdrew the rights, which had been granted previously, just as the plane entered Iranian air space.
After more than an hour of negotiations, involving Turkish authorities and Germany's foreign ministry, the plane was allowed to resume its flight path over Iran to New Delhi.
Officials in the German delegation travelling with Merkel attributed the incident to "coordination problems". The plane, carrying a large group of industry representatives and reporters, landed two hours late.
A second government plane with German ministers onboard reached India without any problems. Merkel and members of her cabinet are due to meet senior members of the Indian government on Tuesday in the first German-Indian government consultations.
"An unusual start to the India trip," Seibert wrote on his Twitter account. "Iran temporarily denied flyover rights for the Chancellor's plane. A late landing in Delhi."
The European Union last week significantly extended its sanctions against Iran in a sign of mounting frustration at a lack of progress in nuclear talks with Tehran.
The incident comes as Iranian officials meet their Indian counterparts for a second day to try to resolve an impasse over payments for oil sales worth about $12 billion a year.
Iran supplies India with some 400,000 barrels per day of oil, second only to Saudi Arabia, filling around 12 percent of the fast-growing Asian country's needs.
Earlier this year, Germany allowed India to pay for the oil via Hamburg-based EIH bank which handles international trade for Iranian companies. But India halted that conduit in early April after discussions with Merkel and EIH has since been put under EU sanctions.