Iranian delegation heads to Saudi Arabia for Hajj talks

Iranian delegation heads to Saudi Arabia for Hajj talks

Delegation heads to Saudi Arabia for second round of talks amid ongoing dispute over Hajj pilgrimage

By Ahmad al-Masri

RIYADH (AA) - A delegation from Iran’s Authority for Hajj Affairs will head to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for a second round of talks with Saudi officials amid an ongoing dispute over practices related to the Hajj pilgrimage, according to an Iranian official.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted authority head Said Ohadi as saying that the visit came at the invitation of Saudi Arabia’s newly-appointed Minister of Hajj Affairs Mohammed Saleh bin Taher Benten.

Ohadi voiced hope that recent changes in the ministry would help resolve a recent dispute between Riyadh and Tehran over Hajj-related practices, "especially if Iran’s proposals in this regard are accepted".

"The fact that visas [to Saudi Arabia] can now be issued from Iran is a positive development," he said. "But there are still another 11 outstanding issues that the Saudi Hajj Ministry must address."

Saudi Arabia denies claims by Tehran that Iranian pilgrims were being hindered from performing the pilgrimage to the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina, which this year will fall in September.

In April, Shia Iran and Sunni-led Saudi Arabia failed to agree on the parameters governing this year’s pilgrimage.

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 practice, however, was considered a political and religious obligation 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 -- Nimr Baqir al-Nimr -- by the Saudi authorities.

*Ali Abo Rezeg contributed to this report

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