Tehran (AsiaNews) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad will travel to Makkah for Hajj, invited by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. His pilgrimage to the holy city will be the first by a president of the Islamic republic—but the third time Ahmadinejad visits the desert kingdom since his election in 2005.
Iranian news agency ISNA reports that King Abdullah “officially invited President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to participate in Hajj pilgrimage,” with “Iran's ambassador to Saudi Arabia” announcing that the president “will fly to that country early next week.” ISNA called the trip “a new chapter in the two countries' relations.”
The invitation to the Iranian president is further example of Riyadh’s involvement on many tense diplomatic fronts in the region, including the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Hamas-Fatah relations, and the Lebanon-Syria divide.
Saudi Arabia’s goal is twofold: stop Tehran’s expansionism in the region and encourage regional coexistence, which in turn can help the Saudi monarchy avoid any internal repercussions.
The king’s action is particularly significant in light of the past, which includes a 1987 anti-American demonstration by Iranian “pilgrims” in Makkah that ended in 402 people losing their lives, and the present, which includes tight anti-terrorism measures taken by Saudi authorities this year that deny access to Islam’s top holy city to those who cannot prove their bona fide pilgrims.