Argentina orders seizure of Venezuelan plane at U.S. request

BUENOS AIRES/CARACAS (Reuters) - Argentina on Thursday ordered the seizure of a Venezuelan plane held in Buenos Aires since June at the request of the United States, amid suspicions the aircraft of Iranian origin could have ties to terrorism, local media reported.

The case has caused tension between Venezuela and Argentina, which on Thursday morning tried to lower the tone of the dispute by stating there was no diplomatic incident caused by the plane.

Nonetheless, Argentine federal judge Federico Villena ordered the seizure of the plane at the request of the United States and despite complaints from the leftist government of Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, outlets such as Argentina's state news agency Telam reported.

Agents from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations inspected the plane on Thursday afternoon, according to Argentine media.

The plane, sold by Iranian company Mahan Air to Venezuelan airline Emtrasur, was immobilized in June by Argentine officials. Both Mahan Air and Emtrasur are sanctioned by the United States.

The Boeing 747 had a crew of 14 Venezuelans and five Iranians at the time of its arrival in Buenos Aires.

Ramon Velasquez Araguayan, Venezuela's transport minister, and a group of lawmakers met with Argentine ambassador Oscar Laborde to deliver a statement in which the airline's workers expressed their desire for the crew and aircraft to return to their country.

The spokesperson for Argentina's center-left government, Gabriela Cerruti, sought Thursday to minimize apparent conflict between the two countries, saying that critical statements by Venezuelan politicians were "expressions of different actors of Venezuelan life" that do not imply "a diplomatic incident."

(Reporting by Nicolas Misculin in Buenos Aires and Vivian Sequera in Caracas; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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