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U.S.: Venezuelan president's plane cleared to enter U.S. airspace

By CNN Staff
September 20, 2013 -- Updated 2238 GMT (0638 HKT)
Venezuelan acting president Nicolas Maduro clenches his fist after he was sworn in, in Caracas, on March 8, 2013.
Venezuelan acting president Nicolas Maduro clenches his fist after he was sworn in, in Caracas, on March 8, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: U.S. official says Venezuelan Embassy confirmed satisfactory resolution
  • A State Department official says the plane was approved to clear U.S. airspace
  • Venezuelan officials had said the U.S. denied permission for their presidential plane

(CNN) -- U.S. officials said Friday that -- contrary to earlier Venezuelan government claims -- the aircraft of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been granted permission to enter U.S. airspace on Maduro's flight to China.

A senior administration official said Friday that the State Department received a message from the Venezuela Embassy's charge de'affaires confirming satisfactory resolution of the issue Thursday night.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said earler Thursday that U.S. officials blocked plans for Maduro's presidential plane to fly through Puerto Rican airspace, with Jaua describing the move as an aggression.

But a State Department official, echoed by other U.S. officials, said Friday that clearance was granted Thursday night for the flight over Puerto Rico.

"Although the request was not properly submitted, U.S. authorities worked with Venezuelan officials at the Venezuelan embassy to resolve the issue," Marie Harf, State Department deputy spokeswoman, said.

"U.S .authorities made an extraordinary effort to work with relevant authorities to grant over-flight approval in a matter of hours. As a result we were able to notify the Venezuelan authorities (Thursday) night that permission was granted."

Maduro is scheduled to travel to China on Saturday.

Harf said the request for diplomatic clearance was made sooner than the three days' advance notice required for diplomatic flight clearances.

"Additionally, the plane in question was not a state aircraft, which is required for a diplomatic clearance," Harf added.

"We advised Venezuela on the correct way to get the clearance and notified (Venezuelan) authorities ... that permission was granted."

Before the apparent resolution of the situation, Maduro called the matter "a serious offense" during a broadcast on state television.

Nicolas Maduro marries

The Venezuelan president vowed to take action, adding that the United States had also denied visas for several members of his country's delegation scheduled to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

"If I have to take diplomatic measures against the U.S. government, I will take them to the most drastic level if it is necessary, but I am not going to accept any type of aggression," he said.

A State Department official called the visa issue untrue, saying the United States had approved them.

CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet, Elise Labott, Jamie Crawford, Patrick Oppmann and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.

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