Iran Air, Air Force One Share Andrews AFB

Photograph by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 26, 2012 in New York City.

President Barack Obama didn’t stay in New York today to listen to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly, but it turns out the two leaders have something in common: A Boeing 747.

And the host nation played its controversial visitor another courtesy:

At Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington this morning, an Iran Air 747 was parked about 500 meters to the north of the 747 that Obama was taking to Ohio for a campaign day. Obama’s is Air Force One when the President of the United States is aboard.

While it’s somewhat arresting to see Iran Air, with its calligraphy on the side, parked at a U.S. Air Force base, it’s not altogether illogical. Ahmadinejad had to fly to the U.S. to attend the UNGA. As a head of state, even a state with which the U.S. has no formal relations, even a state which Obama vows to prevent from obtaining nuclear weapons, he is accorded diplomatic passage for a summit at an international body.

“It’s a courtesy that’s extended to all foreign leaders, free of charge,” said Major Michelle Lai, public affairs officer for the 89th Air Wing headquartered at Andrews. “There are about four other aircraft” on the tarmac, she noted.

The parked Iran Air 747 left unanswered the details of the rest of Ahmadinejad’s journey to the U.N. Hopped the Acela from Union station? Chinatown bus? And how was his government paying for the fuel needed for the return flight to Tehran? Do the Swiss, who handled America’s diplomatic interests in Iran, have a payment system? Do the Iranians pay in Euros? Iranian Rials, which are worth less and less?

The Obama administration has worked to prevent Iran from selling its oil on global markets, one of the sanctions aimed at suppressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Would Iran 747 refuel with Citgo?

“They schedule refueling just like they would at a commercial airport,” Major Lai said. “They can use what’s called a world credit card or they can pay cash.”

“Some nations pay with the card. Some pay with cash,” she said, adding that she didn’t know how Iran settled its bill.


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