Iran says pilgrims to miss haj after failure to reach agreement with Saudi Arabia following severing of ties

Muslim pilgrims gathered near Namira Mosque in Saudi Arabia, while performing the Haj pilgrimage, on Oct 8, 2015.
Muslim pilgrims gathered near Namira Mosque in Saudi Arabia, while performing the Haj pilgrimage, on Oct 8, 2015. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN FILE

TEHERAN (AFP) - Iran has failed to reach agreement with Saudi Arabia on arrangements for its pilgrims to join the annual haj in September following the severing of ties, its culture minister said on Thursday (May 12).

An Iranian delegation held four days of talks in Saudi Arabia last month aimed at thrashing out a deal, but with Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran closed since January and Iranian flights to the kingdom halted, they hit a deadlock.

"The arrangements have not been put together and it's now too late," Mr Ali Jannati told the official IRNA news agency. "The sabotage is coming from the Saudis... Their attitude was cold and inappropriate. They did not accept our proposals concerning the issuing of visas or the transport and security of the pilgrims."

"Saudi officials say our pilgrims must travel to another country to make their visa applications."

Iran has been insisting that Saudi Arabia issue visas through the Swiss embassy in Teheran, which has looked after Saudi interests since Riyadh broke off ties in January following the ransacking of its diplomatic missions by protesters after it executed a leading Shi'ite cleric.

Another contentious issue has been security, after a massive stampede at last year's haj killed more than 2,000 foreign pilgrims, including 464 Iranians.

Mr Jannati's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance oversees Iran's haj organisation, which held the abortive negotiations in Saudi Arabia.

Shi'ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are at odds over a raft of regional issues, notably the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, in which they support opposing sides.