A Saudi minister held talks with an Iranian delegation about the possibility of Iranian pilgrims rejoining the annual hajj despite ruptured ties between the two countries, state media has reported. Shiite-dominated Iran and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia have had no diplomatic ties since early last year. The kingdom’s minister in charge of pilgrimages, Mohammed Bentin, discussed with the Iranians “arrangements concerning participation of the Iranian faithful in this year’s hajj,” the official Saudi Press Agency said.
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It did not give more details but said the meeting took place yesterday in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.
SPA said the talks occurred in the context of meetings organised by the pilgrimage ministry with various countries about accommodation and other logistics for the hajj, which will take place around early September.
For the first time in nearly three decades, Iran’s 64,000 pilgrims did not attend last year’s hajj after the regional rivals failed to agree on security and logistics.
Tensions remain as Saudi Arabia repeatedly accuses Iran of fuelling regional conflicts by supporting armed Shiite movements in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain.
Iran rejects the accusations and says Riyadh must stop its support for Sunni “terrorists” like the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda. But Saudi media reported in December that Bentin had invited Iran to discuss arrangements for this year’s pilgrimage.
“Iran’s policy is to send pilgrims to the hajj (this year), of course, if Saudi Arabia accepts our conditions,” Iran’s Culture Minister Reza Salehi Amiri told state television on Wednesday, when he confirmed Iran had sent a team to Saudi Arabia.
“In a letter I’ve written to the Saudi hajj minister I have specified our conditions,” he said.
“If they accept our conditions, we will definitely send pilgrims (this) year, otherwise the responsibility” will be on Saudi Arabia.
More than 1.8 million faithful took part in last year’s hajj. The pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam and all Muslims who can must perform it at least once in their lives.