Iran blocks Merkel's flight en route to India

Iran has not said why it denied German Chancellor Merkel's plane entry to Iranian airspace, although relations between the two have deteriorated over Iran's nuclear program and EU sanctions.

B Mathur/Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a photo opportunity ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, on May 31. Iran temporarily withdrew flyover rights on Tuesday for a plane carrying Merkel to India, forcing it to circle over Turkey for almost two hours before restoring the rights.

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"Coordination problems" delayed German Chancellor Angela Merkel's arrival in India for a trade visit when Iran refused her plane entry into Iranian airspace for two hours while it was en route to India (see route).

The plane was forced to wait over Turkey until it eventually received permission to pass through Iran, which has not given a reason for the refusal.

The Iranian ambassador to Germany was summoned to the German foreign ministry to explain his country's "disrespect towards Germany which we cannot accept," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, German newspaper Der Spiegel reports.

German-Iranian relations have been tense for the past few years because of German criticism of Iran's nuclear program, and recent events have upped the tension. In April, Germany abandoned its opposition to European Union sanctions on an Iranian bank based in Hamburg that was a "financial lifeline" to the country's nuclear program, and in October 2010, Iran detained two German journalists, holding them until this February.

Through this, the countries trade relations have remained strong. In 2010, Germany was the third-largest exporter to Iran with total exports worth $5.5 billion. However, some German companies – including Siemens and ThyssenKrupp – have stopped doing business with Iran, Der Spiegel reports.

While the main focus of Ms. Merkel's visit is trade – Germany is India's largest European trading partner and the two conducted $21 billion worth of business in 2010 – another important topic is security.

In a preview to Merkel's visit, Indian newspaper The Hindu reports that issues on the agenda will include a German plan for economic assistance to Pakistan in order to bolster the military's ability to fight militants in the country's tribal regions – a plan India opposes.

Afghanistan also figured into talks. Germany is reducing its number of troops on the ground and is seeking the involvement of other countries in the region as it begins its pullout, according to The Hindu.

At a government meeting in New Delhi Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that terrorism would have to be "fought on all fronts and not selectively," The Times of India reports. The comment was likely an allusion to the US relationship with Pakistan – despite substantial economic assistance from the US for counterterrorism efforts, India and many other countries charge that Pakistan is not doing enough to confront militants.

India and Pakistan's rivalry is a tense one that has spurred nuclear weapon development in both countries, intended as a deterrent – or eventual defense – to each other.

The two countries also discussed United Nations Security Council membership, according to The Hindu. Neither are permanent members of the council (Currently, it is only the US, Britain, China, Russia, and France) and both Merkel and Singh said that they hope UN reforms will change membership "to reflect the contemporary reality of the world" – meaning permanent seats for the two, who have gained international influence in recent years.

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