Tehran Slams Riyadh for Politicizing Hajj Pilgrimage

Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari censured Saudi Arabia for its attempts to politicize the issue of Hajj pilgrimage and its refusal to cooperate with the Islamic Republic to facilitate the travel of Iranian pilgrims to the Arab country for the upcoming Hajj.

Speaking to reporters at his weekly press briefing in Tehran on Monday, Jaberi Ansari pointed to a delay by Riyadh in holding negotiations with Tehran on preparation for the upcoming Hajj rituals, saying that Saudi Arabia has not fulfilled its commitments.

Unfortunately, despite Riyadh’s claims that Hajj pilgrimage is a “non-political issue”, the Saudi government delayed issuing visas to the members of an Iranian delegation tasked with facilitating Hajj affairs, he stated.

Jaberi Ansari further said Iran’s policy, unlike that of Saudi Arabia, is avoiding escalation of tensions, but warned that Tehran’s patience has limits.

Last month, Head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization Saeed Ohadi also took a swipe at Saudi officials for a delay in holding negotiations in preparation for the upcoming Hajj rituals.

Saudis have twice postponed the meetings they had pledged to hold with the Iranian officials for negotiations, Ohadi said on March 20.

Tehran has been trying to contact Saudi Hajj authorities for arranging a meeting for talks about Iranians’ possible religious visit to the kingdom for this year’s Hajj season, irrespective of political disputes, he said at the time.

Iran insists that the safety of travelers to Saudi Arabia must be ensured, given the disaster in Mina that killed many Iranian pilgrims in the previous Hajj pilgrimage.

More than 460 Iranians were among the thousands of pilgrims who died on September 24, 2015, in a crush in Mina, near Mecca, during the Hajj pilgrimage.

The incident marked the worst ever tragedy during Hajj.

There have been doubts about participation of Iranian pilgrims in the 2016 Hajj since tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia ran high following Riyadh’s execution of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and a subsequent attack by outraged Iranian protesters on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, which resulted in the Arab country’s decision to sever its ties with the Islamic Republic.

Although Iranian officials criticized the embassy attack and those involved in the attack have been brought to justice, Saudi Arabia has cut off all diplomatic relations with Iran.