In a contrast to its tensions with Saudi Arabia, Iran says that talks with Riyadh about the restoration of the Hajj pilgrimage for Iranians are making progress.
The caretaker of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, Hamid Mohammadi, said on Thursday that there was movement towards Iranians being able to travel to Mecca this autumn: “If the talks on meeting expectations raised by Iran reach an agreement, then the path will be open for the Iranian pilgrims to attend this year Hajj congregation.”
The pilgrimage was suspended after the Mina disaster in September 2015, when 464 Iranians were among thousands who died in a crush at the Stoning of the Devil ceremony near Mecca. Iran has said restoration of the pilgrimage must include assurances of security, compensation to the families of those killed in 2015, and “preservation of the Iranian pilgrims’ dignity” while they are in Saudi Arabia.
In January 2016, Saudi Arabia broke relations with Iran after Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shia cleric and a crowd attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Occasional signals from Iran’s President Rouhani of a re-engagement of the Saudis have been knocked down by other factions within the regime.
On Thursday, the Hajj statement was balanced by an exchange of criticism between Tehran and Riyadh after a joint statement by Saudi King Salman and Malaysian leaders accused Iran of interfering in the “internal affairs of countries in the region”.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi responded that “these allegations are part of the purposeful and futile efforts” of Saudi rulers who spend large sums of money in their challenge to the Islamic Republic:
There is no doubt that the unacceptable measure taken by the Malaysian government to get involved in such groundless and purposeful episode masterminded by the Zionist circles to target unity of the Muslim world, would not help improve bilateral relations.