India issues travel advisory, Air India to avoid Iran airspace

In this Nov. 8, 2017, file photo, US Marines are stationed in Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq. (AP Photo: Khalid Mohammed)

AS IRAN retaliated through missile strikes on Iraqi bases hosting US troops, India on Wednesday issued a travel advisory asking Indian nationals to avoid non-essential travel to Iraq. Separately, Air India also decided to temporarily re-route its flights over Iranian airspace.

“In view of the prevailing situation in Iraq, Indian nationals are advised to avoid all non-essential travel to Iraq until further notification,” said the advisory issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). It said Indian nationals residing in Iraq are advised to be alert and avoid travel within Iraq.

“Our Embassy in Baghdad and Consulate in Erbil will continue to function normally to provide all services to Indians residing in Iraq,” it said.

In a separate move, Air India has decided to temporarily re-route its flights over Iranian airspace.

All Air India and Air India Express flights from Delhi and Mumbai are likely to take an extra 20-40 minutes to avoid Iranian airspace, a spokesperson for Air India said.

This comes in the wake of the US Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) decision to bar its civilian operators from flying over Iran, Iraq, Persian Gulf, and Gulf of Oman airspace. Operators from around the world too have issued similar statements, saying they would avoid flights in and out of Iran, or over Iranian airspace.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation in India has also advised all airlines to re-route their flights and avoid the airspace over Iran and surrounding middle-east areas in view of the safety of cabin crew and all passengers.

Meanwhile, Iran’s Ambassador to India Ali Chegeni said Tehran would welcome any peace initiative by New Delhi to de-escalate tension with Washington. Stressing that his country wants peace, he hoped that there would be no further escalation in hostilities.

“India usually plays a very good role in (maintaining) peace in the world. India belongs to this region. We welcome all initiatives from all countries, especially India as a good friend, to not allow escalation (of tensions),” Chegeni told reporters after a condolence meeting for General Qasem Soleimani at the Iranian Embassy in New Delhi.

“We are not for war, we are looking for peace and prosperity for everybody in this region. We welcome any Indian initiative or any project that can help peace and prosperity in this world,” he said. On the Iranian attack on US targets in Iraq, Chegeni said his country retaliated under its right to defend.

Emphasising that India is a “good friend”, Chegeni said: “My minister (Javad Zarif) talked to Dr Jaishankar, they had a very good discussion. Recently, we had the joint economic commission in Tehran... We see a very good future for the relationship. We have no problem with India.” He said Iran and India can jointly work for peace in the world.

Asked if Indian officials had reached out to the Embassy with a condolence message, the Iranian envoy said the Embassy had opened a condolence book for two days. He said he expected Indian officials to come, but added that it is “up to the Indian side”.

“Usually, we have good relations and sympathy between the two countries,” he said.

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