August 29, 2005

Russia “regrets” holding up U.S. senators’ plane

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Monday it regretted
preventing U.S. Senators Richard Lugar and Barack Obama from
boarding their plane for several hours at a provincial airport,
blaming a bureaucratic mix-up.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Lugar and
Obama, who also sits on the committee, had been due to fly on
Sunday from the city of Perm to Ukraine in a U.S military
aircraft but officials stopped them leaving the airport.

"We regret the misunderstanding that arose and the
inconvenience caused to the senators," Russia's Foreign
Ministry said in a statement. "It would be inappropriate to
talk about the 'detention' of the senators in Perm," it said.

The flight was delayed because local border officials were
unsure of the procedure for dealing with military aircraft on
international flights and needed time to clarify this, the
statement said.

"There was a lack of understanding about the status of the
... flight," said a spokesman at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

"Once it was clarified, the plane left without being
searched. The problem was solved," he said.

U.S. media reported heated arguments at Perm's airport on
Sunday and that the White House, the Secretary of State and the
Pentagon got involved in efforts to resolve the problem,
contacting their counterparts in Moscow.

Indiana Republican Lugar and Illinois Democrat Obama had
taken a delegation to Perm, about 1,200 km (750 miles) east of
Moscow, as part of a U.S.-Russian program to inspect former
nuclear weapons sites in ex-Soviet republics.

"The program has been carried out successfully for more
than 10 years and we value the personal contribution to it of
Senator Lugar," the Foreign Ministry statement added.