Haj row escalates as S. Arabia, Iran again miss deal


RIYADH: An Iranian delegation has left Saudi Arabia without an agreement for its citizens to perform Haj this year, Saudi media have reported.

It was the second failure by the rival Middle East powers to strike a deal over Haj arrangements.

Relations between the two countries worsened after hundreds of Iranians died in a crush during last year’s Haj and after Riyadh broke diplomatic ties when its Tehran embassy was stormed in January over the Saudi execution of a Shia cleric.

“At dawn on Friday, the Iranian mission expressed its desire to leave for home without signing the minutes of arrangements,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported late on Friday.

Riyadh accuses Tehran of politicising pilgrimage

Iran’s top Haj official Saeed Ohadi said there was still room to find agreement until Sunday night, according to Tehran’s official IRNA news agency.

Saudi Arabia blamed Iran for the impasse. “We witnessed a lack of seriousness by the Iranian side in dealing with the issue. It is yet another attempt by them to politicise the Haj,” said Abdulmohsen Alyas, an under-secretary at Riyadh’s information ministry.

After an earlier attempt to agree on Haj terms failed this month, Iran’s leadership had blamed Saudi Arabia for the delay, saying it was “very concerned” for the safety of Iranian pilgrims after last year’s disaster.

Saudi Arabia’s Haj ministry said it had met a number of Iran’s concerns, offering electronic visas, a deal on air transport for pilgrims and diplomatic representation by Switzerland for Iranians in Makkah.

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