The political differences between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran are set to affect thousands of Iranians who will be denied the hajj pilgrimage this year. Riyadh and Tehran reportedly failed to agree on arrangements for Iranian pilgrims to join the annual hajj, Iran's culture minister Ali Jannati reportedly said on Thursday.
The two sides failed to reach an agreement despite meetings between officials from Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization and those from Riyadh over the arrangements for Iranians to travel for hajj this year, Iranian media reported. Tehran accused Saudi Arabia of sabotage for the failure of talks.
"The arrangements have not been put together and it's now too late," Ali Jannati told the official IRNA news agency. "The sabotage is coming from the Saudis." On Wednesday, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman had also hit out at Saudi Arabia, accusing it of politicising the hajj pilgrimage, according to Tasnim News Agency.
Iran had reportedly asked that visas for Iranian pilgrims be issued in Iran, and that Saudi Arabia assure the safety of travellers, especially in the light of the deadly stampede during the hajj pilgrimage last year that left hundreds, including 460 Iranians, dead.
Saudi Arabia, however, reportedly refused to accept those conditions.
"They did not accept our proposals concerning the issuing of visas or the transport and security of the pilgrims," Jannati was quoted as saying. "Saudi officials say our pilgrims must travel to another country to make their visa applications."
Relations between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia were severed after Riyadh executed prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr earlier this year. Hundreds protested in Iran and stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, leading Riyadh to call off ties with Iran, also asking Iranian representatives in the kingdom to leave.