PHOTO: President Rouhani addresses an audience in West Azerbaijan on Monday


In some of his harshest comments about Saudi Arabia during his 22-month Presidency, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani has proclaimed that Riyadh is serving Israeli interests.

Rouhani’s comments, in a speech in northwestern Iran on Monday, were triggered by the ongoing dispute between Tehran and Riyadh over arrangements for this year’s pilgrimage to Mecca.

Last September, 464 Iranian pilgrims were among 2,500 victims in a crush in Mina, near Mecca, for the Stoning of the Devil ceremony. Tehran accused Saudi Arabia’s authorities of negligence or even deliberate calculation over the disaster.

Relations worsened in January when a crowd in Tehran attacked and burned the Saudi Embassy, following Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shia cleric. Saudi Arabia soon broke off diplomatic ties, and the two countries have continued to battle over issues such as the Syrian and Yemeni civil wars.

The situation appeared to ease last week when the Islamic Republic’s officials traveled to Saudi Arabia to negotiate procedures under which Iranians could go to Mecca. However, the talks stalled and Iran returned to denunciation of Saudi officials, giving a deadline of last Sunday for a resolution.

Rouhani said on Monday, “The childish bid by those claiming to be the custodians of the two holy mosques in blocking the path of God and Hajj as well as spreading instability in the region is [tantamount to] meeting the interests of the Zionist regime.”

He insisted, “Terrorism and murder are rooted in international Zionism and global arrogance; however, faced with the unity and strong resistance of the Iranian nation, they failed to carry out their plots.”

The President has pursued a foreign policy of engagement, including with Saudi Arabia, since his inauguration in August 2013. However, he has faced increasing criticism of the approach, even after a July 2015 nuclear deal with the US and other powers. The January downturn in relations with Saudi were a catalyst for further attacks, including claims that Government officials were appeasing “sedition”.

Rouhani’s remarks followed a series of high-level denunciations of Saudi Arabia, after Culture Minister Ali Jannati said it would be “virtually impossible” for Iranians to perform the Hajj ritual this year.

The Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, said the Saudi government should learn lessons from the consequences of its wrong policies and stop “divisive measures”.

The Secretary of the Expediency Council, Mohsen Rezaei, was blunter in an Instagram post:

[The Saudis] are not even willing to protect the lives of other countries’ nationals during Hajj rituals, and are completely uncooperative in issuing visas….

[Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir’s] attitude is similar to the Bedouin people that have just arrived in the city and laid down their camels in the middle of Riyadh square.

Hit Film Banned After Criticism by Friday Prayer Leader

The film 50 Kilos of Tart Cherries has been withdrawn from cinemas across Iran after it was denounced by the Friday Prayer leader in Tabas in eastern Iran.

Hojatoleslam Ebrahim Mohajerian said on Friday that the film is “destroying revolutionary values”. He explained that the Culture Ministry immediately retracted the screening permit after he filed a complaint.

50 Kilos of Tart Cherries, a comedy by director Mani Haghighi, had been screened since March and become Iran’s most popular film this year.

But Mohajerian said, “Our officials should be stopping such films and these films need to be filtered before they hit the big screen.” He insisted that it was through the movies that “the enemy is trying to diminish the force and grandeur of the Revolution and squander its values”.