Iranian pilgrims’ Haj looks ‘impossible’ this year: Minister

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Tehran, May 29 (IANS) Performing Haj ceremony is “impossible” for Iranian pilgrims this year, an Iranian minister said on Sunday.

Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati said: “We were supposed to wait until Sunday for the Saudi officials’ response about our points in the negotiations.”

“The rhetoric of the Saudi side with the Iranian representatives, and their obstructions showed that performing Haj rituals is impossible (for Iranians) this year,” Xinhua news agency quoted Jannati as saying.

“Iran’s Haj and Pilgrimage Organisation will announce this in a statement on Monday,” he said.

After several rounds of meetings with the Saudi authorities recently, Tehran failed to reach an agreement with Riyadh on arrangements for its pilgrims to join the annual ritual in September.

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Last week, the Iranian foreign ministry accused Saudi Arabia of “obstructing” this year’s Haj rituals for the Iranian pilgrims.

“Unfortunately, the Saudi sabotage regarding the basic issues of Iranian pilgrims, including their transfer, safety and visa issuance, has resulted in the emergence of problems,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari said.

“If Saudi Arabia does not stick to its obligations, it will be held responsible for creating obstacles on the way of Iranians to perform the rituals,” Ansari said.

He accused the Saudi government of pursuing policies aimed at escalating tension and conflicts in the region and said that such policies hamper Iran’s attempts to expand ties with its neighbours.

Earlier, Saudi Arabia also accused Iran of “politicising” the Haj and held Tehran responsible for barring its citizens from performing the ritual this season.

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Talks with Saudi officials on the issue started four months ago, but “they obstructed the progress”, Jannati said earlier.

Iranian pilgrims had to apply for a visa of Saudi Arabia from a third country, which means that Iranians would miss the ceremony this year, he said.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are currently locked in a diplomatic row over Syria and Yemen issues, as well as the Sunni-majority Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, along with 46 others over terror charges, in January.

The executions sent a large number of Iranians onto streets, and some of them stormed the Saudi diplomatic missions in Tehran and Mashhad.

Later, Riyadh cut its diplomatic ties with Tehran over the attacks, and many of Gulf countries either followed suit or downgraded their relations with Iran.

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