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Venezuelan official briefly detained at New York airport

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The U.S. State Department apologized Saturday for the brief detention of Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro by airport security in New York, but a senior White House official said Maduro brought it on himself.

Maduro was detained and released at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport after a run-in with security personnel, the foreign minister said.

"The State Department regrets this incident. The United States government apologized to Foreign Minister Maduro and the Venezuelan government," said State Department spokesman Gonzo Gallegos.

Maduro told CNN en Espaņol that as he reached out to pick up an item that had been screened at a security checkpoint, security personnel told him he was prohibited from doing so.

Maduro identified himself as a Venezuela government official, but they nonetheless took him to a room for a more thorough screening, he said. Maduro claims he was kept in the room for 90 minutes.

When a State Department representative showed up, the official asked Maduro to spread his arms and legs for a search, but he refused, Maduro said, adding that the actions violated his international and diplomatic rights.

"We were detained illegally by the U.S. government," Maduro later told reporters. "They are responsible for this." (Watch Maduro call his detention illegal -- :20)

He called the U.S. government "racist" and "Nazi" and said the United States does not appreciate Latin American countries. He has filed a complaint with the United Nations, he said.

A senior White House official said airport officials did not know who Maduro was. The Venezuelan government never made arrangements through State Department Diplomatic Security, which is customary when a high-ranking foreign official is traveling, the official said.

Maduro, his wife and child arrived at the airport 30 minutes before their flight to Caracas via Miami, Florida, and paid for their tickets in cash, raising red flags with airport security, the official said.

Maduro was screened and asked to go through a second security check, and a disagreement ensued when the foreign minister refused and began making calls on his cell phone, the official said.

Only after his cell phone, travel documents and passport were confiscated did Maduro explain that he is a diplomat, the official said.

After the disagreement was resolved, Maduro was given permission to board his plane but opted instead to stay in New York, the White House official said.

"We apologize for it, but at the same time the Venezuelan mission working out of New York knows better," the official said. "There are procedures and processes to request airport courtesies for dignitaries. You don't come to the airport and buy a ticket with cash a half hour before the flight."

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Tom Shannon called Maduro to personally apologize for the incident, the official said.

The annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly began Tuesday in New York.

At that meeting, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez lambasted U.S. President Bush during a speech, calling him "the devil."

The speech was condemned by U.S. officials, including some of Bush's normally most outspoken critics. (Full story)

Informed of the incident, Chavez said on Venezuelan state television, "This is a provocation from Mr. Devil."

Maduro said the incident was retaliation for Chavez's speech. However, the White House official said there was no connection.

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Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, seen here during a visit to Cuba earlier this month, was detained Saturday in New York.


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