Tokyo: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has arrived in Japan after a marathon journey during which Iran refused to allow his plane to cross its air space.
Maliki’s plane landed at 11:30 pm (1430 GMT) on 8 April, an official at Haneda airport in Tokyo said, after an unplanned stop in Dubai and another break in Bangkok.
Sadiq al-Rikabi, a senior adviser who is accompanying Maliki on a trip to Japan and South Korea, said the Iranian aviation authorities had ordered the plane to turn back after it entered Iranian air space at about 8:30 pm on 7 April.
“We were obliged to fly to Dubai where we stayed for more than three hours to file a new (flight) plan,” Rikabi said by telephone from Bangkok before the plane departed for Tokyo.
Rikabi said it was unclear why Iran had barred Maliki’s plane from crossing its territory.
Asked about the reports, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini implied Maliki’s plane may have faced an issue over permission to fly across Iran but said it was not an unusual problem.
“Permission for Maliki’s flight is a normal issue. All flights need permission,” he told a weekly news conference in Tehran, without giving further details.
Iraq’s US-backed government has often had to tread a delicate path in trying to maintain good relations with both Iran, its neighbour to the east, and the United States.
Maliki, a Shi’ite, visited Tehran last September to urge Iran not to interfere in Iraq. President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, made an official trip to Tehran in November.
Washington accuses Shi’ite Iran of stoking violence in Iraq and in January detained five men it says were linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and backing militants. Iran insists they are diplomats, wants them freed and has requested access.
An Iranian diplomat freed two months after being kidnapped in Baghdad by gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms has said he was tortured by U.S. forces while in captivity, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported on Saturday.
The US military denied on Saturday playing any part in kidnapping the diplomat, or in his alleged torture.
Maliki is seeking support for rebuilding his war-devastated country on the trip to Japan and South Korea.
—Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Tehran bureau