Saudi Arabia and Iran fail to reach hajj deal
The Iranian delegation decided to return to Tehran without signing the final agreement despite two days of extensive talks
An Iranian delegation wrapped up its visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday without signing a final agreement on arrangements for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has said.
The ministry said the delegation decided to return to Tehran without signing the final agreement despite two days of extensive talks.
“The Iranian Organization of Hajj and Visit will be held responsible before God and the people of Iran for the inability of its pilgrims to perform Hajj this year,” the ministry said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.
The ministry said it offered many solutions to meet a string of demands made by the Iranian delegation, which arrived in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Agreements had been reached in some areas, including electronic visa issuance as Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran remain closed. Riyadh cut ties with Tehran in January after protesters torched the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and the consulate in Mashhad.
The ministry said Riyadh agreed to allow Iranians to obtain visas through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which is looking after Saudi interests since the countries severed ties.
Saudi Arabia also agreed to allow Iranian carriers to fly half of the pilgrims into Saudi Arabia and back despite a ban on Iranian airlines following the diplomatic row, the ministry said.
The talks were the second attempt by both countries after an unsuccessful first round last month to iron out differences and reach a deal on organizing this year’s Hajj journey for Iranian pilgrims.
According to the statement, the ministry formally received the delegation and provided all facilities for the members, including arrangements to perform Umrah.
Marathon talks continued on Wednesday and Thursday, with both sides raising all topics that had figured in the previous round. The ministry suggested a number of solutions for all issued raised by the Iranian side.
It proposed issuing electronic visas within Iran in accordance with a mechanism agreed by the Saudi Foreign Ministry.
It suggested Saudi and Iranian national carriers equally share the responsibility of transporting the Iranian pilgrims. It also approved an Iranian request to allow the Swiss Embassy to take care of the interests of Iranian pilgrims during their stay in Saudi Arabia.
“The ministry immediately coordinated with the competent authorities to implement the agreements. But early Friday morning, the Iranian mission expressed its desire to return home without signing the final Hajj agreement,” the ministry said.
The ministry clarified that the Kingdom has reiterated its categorical rejection of attempts to politicize Hajj rituals.
Tehran had banned its pilgrims from coming to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah this year.
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on May 28, 2016.