By Ahmet Dursun
ISTANBUL (AA) - Saudi Arabia is intentionally hindering Iranian nationals from performing the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage to the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina, Said Ohadi, head of Iran’s authority for Hajj affairs, said Wednesday.
"Saudi Arabia is not providing consular services for Iranian nationals," Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency quoted Ohadi as saying.
"Nor is it appropriate for our citizens to go on the pilgrimage via third countries," he added.
He went on to assert that the alleged Saudi moves were "premeditated" due to longstanding political differences between the two countries.
In April, Shia Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia failed to agree on the parameters governing the pilgrimage, which this year will fall in September.
The dispute worsened after Iran demanded that Iranian pilgrims be allowed to perform certain practices -- forbidden by the Saudi authorities -- during the pilgrimage.
The Saudi authorities, for their part, say such practices, which include gatherings of Iranian Shia worshipers during the Hajj ritual, "hinder the movement of other pilgrims".
The practices, however, were considered political and religious obligations by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Saudi Arabia officially cut its ties with Iran in January after its diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad were attacked by Iranian protesters following the execution of a prominent Shia cleric by the Saudi authorities.