Iranian Muslims won’t make it to annual haj pilgrimage: official
TEHRAN –Iranian Muslims will miss the annual haj pilgrimage in September because Tehran and Riyadh failed to agree organizational details after they cut diplomatic ties in January, the IRNA news agency reported on Thursday.
The official Iranian agency quoted Tehran’s Islamic Guidance and Culture Minister Ali Jannati as blaming Riyadh for the impasse. Last year’s haj was marred by the death of over 2,000 pilgrims, 464 of them Iranian, in a deadly crush during the crowded pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
Tensions between the regional rivals led to Riyadh breaking off diplomatic ties in January after protesters in Iran attacked Saudi diplomatic missions there following the execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric in the Sunni-led kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s conservative Sunni monarchy sees Shi’ite- dominated Iran as the paramount threat to Middle East stability because of its support for Shi’ite militias that Riyadh says have inflamed sectarian violence.
“The arrangements have not been put together and it’s now too late,” said Jannati, whose ministry oversees arrangements for Iranian pilgrims. “The sabotage is coming from the Saudi side.”
Pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani’s government has distanced itself from the attack on the Saudi embassy and even suggested foreign elements had organized it.
Iranian and Saudi officials have held talks to resolve the matter but has so far failed to make any progress, Iranian officials said.
Jannati said the Saudis “did not accepted our proposals on security, transportation and visa issuing for Iranian pilgrims”.
Riyadh has rejected Iran’s request that visas for its pilgrims be issued through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which has looked after Saudi interests since the Iranian embassy there was closed.
“Saudi officials say Iranian pilgrims should get their Saudi visas from a third country as Riyadh’s missions are closed in Iran,” Jannati said.
A culture ministry official said Iran was “very concerned over the security of Iranians during the holy ceremony” and that talks with Saudi authorities were continuing.
Tehran expressed outrage last year after the deaths of Iranians at the haj, which drew about two million pilgrims from around the world, and politicians in Tehran suggested Riyadh was incapable of managing the event. –Reuters