05/26/2016, 10.04
SAUDI ARABIA - IRAN
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Riyadh: "Positive" talks with Tehran for Iranian Hajj pilgrims

Another round of talks between the Iranian delegation and a Saudi representative held yesterday. Discussions focus on visa process for Iranian pilgrims. Deal expected within the next few days. Diplomatic tension between the two regional powers remains high.

Riyadh (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Discussions with the Iranian delegation were held in a "positive" climate and progress has been made to allow Iranian pilgrims participate in the Hajj, after an initial problem of issuing visas. This was stated by a Saudi official, commenting on the meeting between the two parties yesterday in Saudi Arabia at a time of serious diplomatic crisis between the two regional powers.

Tehran and Riyadh are at loggerheads over the assault on the Saudi embassy in Iran in response to the execution of a Shiite dignitary in the kingdom. Earlier this month they failed to reach agreement for the participation of Iranian faithful in the Haji pilgrimage.  At that juncture Tehran accused Riyadh of "sabotage"; in response the Saudi leadership affirmed that the kingdom "welcomes pilgrims from around the world."

Yesterday, the two sides discussed "how [to issue visas], as well as the organization and the services"; an initial agreement was reached on the use of "electronic visas" that can be printed by Iranian pilgrims. Meanwhile the Saudi diplomatic mission in Tehran remains closed. The signing of a final agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia is expected to arrive in the coming days, at the end of the meetings between the two delegations.

Tehran objects to Riyadh’s imposition that the visa’s be issued by "a third country". Moreover, the Saudis do not want pilgrims to arrive on Iranian airliners with direct flights. Mediation to resolve these points is underway, in order to break the deadlock.

Iran (Shiite) and Saudi Arabia (Sunni) are on opposite sides in many of the most important issues that agitate the Middle Eastern chessboard, from the Syrian conflict to the war in Yemen. Moreover, relations between the two greatest powers in the Muslim world have been at an historic low since September 2015, following the tragic accident during the last major pilgrimage to Mecca.

 A stampede in Mina, near Mecca, caused hundreds of casualties, 2070 dead according to statistics reported by Reuters. Iran had immediately accused the Saudi authorities of "mismanagement" and "incompetence" to the point of suggesting that the incident was premeditated.

The Hajj (pilgrimage) is considered one of the five pillars of Islam and every good Muslim should perform it at least once in his life time. Saudi Arabia has often politically exploited permission to come to Mecca. For example, for years Syrians were forbidden to travel to the Muslim holy cities.

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