Iran has confirmed receiving an invitation to discuss preparations for the next annual Hajj pilgrimage from Saudi Arabia.
Seyyed Ali Qazi-Askar, the representative of Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei for Hajj, said on Monday that Iran had “officially received Saudi Arabia’s invitation to meet and hold bilateral talks on the Hajj.”
He added that the talks would focus on accommodation, transportation, safety, medical care, visas and banking, and that Iran would respond to the invitation over the next few days.
Last week, a senior Iranian official dismissed reports that Saudi Arabia had invited Iran to discuss the resumption of Iranians’ participation in Hajj pilgrimage.
“Contrary to the report published by some media outlets about the extension of an invitation by Saudi Arabia for Iran’s participation in this year’s Hajj rituals, we have received no invitation,” the head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, Hamid Mohammadi, had said.
In September 2015, a deadly human crush occurred during Hajj rituals in Mina, near Mecca. Days into the incident, Saudi Arabia published a death toll of 770 but refused to update it despite gradually surging fatality figures from individual countries whose nationals had been among the victims of the crush. Iran said about 4,700 people, including over 465 of its nationals, lost their lives in the incident.
Earlier that same month, a massive construction crane had collapsed into Mecca’s Grand Mosque, killing more than 100 pilgrims, including 11 Iranians, and injuring over 200 others, among them 32 Iranian nationals.
Serious questions were raised about the competence of Saudi authorities to manage the Hajj rituals in the wake of the incidents, and, facing Saudi intransigence to cooperate and refusal to guarantee the safety of Iranian pilgrims, officials in the Islamic Republic subsequently decided to halt pilgrimages over security concerns.
Saudi Arabia unilaterally severed its diplomatic ties with Iran in January this year after protests in front of its diplomatic premises in Tehran and Mashhad against the execution by Riyadh of prominent Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.