Sun, Sep 07, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Iran orders jet chartered by US military to land

DELAY ISSUE:An official said a factor in the situation was that a flight delay and the late appearance of the plane was unexpected to Iranian air traffic controllers

NY Times News Service, WASHINGTON

A charter airplane carrying US military contractors through Iranian airspace was instructed to land in Iran on Friday, but the US attributed the episode to an easily corrected bureaucratic issue and not a larger political incident between two countries with a long history of hostility.

The airplane, chartered by the international military coalition in Afghanistan, was flying from Bagram Air Base north of Kabul to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates when it ran into trouble with Iranian air traffic controllers over its flight plan.

The plane was rerouted to the coastal Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, where it landed pending a resolution of the issue. It was later allowed to depart Iran, and by Friday night, the plane had landed in Dubai, US officials said.

“This is nothing to get alarmed over,” said a US official, who like other US officials insisted on anonymity to discuss a potentially delicate diplomatic situation.

“This is a bureaucratic problem with the flight plan, and it’s going to be resolved shortly. This is not a political statement,” the official said.

US President Barack Obama’s administration denied initial media reports that Iranian fighter jets had forced the airplane to land.

“It was all done on the radio,” a senior Pentagon official said.

“It was just a bad flight plan,” the official added.

A Middle Eastern official said another problem was that the flight’s departure was delayed by four to five hours, so it appeared on the Iranian air traffic control at an unexpected time.

The effort to avoid a larger international dispute over the flight underscored the shift in US-Iran relations in recent months. In the past, even an honest misunderstanding might have provoked a series of harsh exchanges and escalated into a standoff.

However, with the two nations negotiating a deal to restrict Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting international sanctions, neither evidently wanted such a distraction.

“It’s a cautious decision by both sides to make sure things like this don’t get out of hand,” said Vali Nasr, a former Obama administration official who is now dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

The plane, which was chartered from Fly Dubai by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, was carrying about 140 passengers, 100 of them from the US.

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