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Saudi Arabia invites Iran to talks to resolve haj dispute

Saudi Arabia has invited an Iranian delegation to partake in discussions over efforts to accommodate Haj pilgrims from the Islamic Republic after a dispute resulted in their absence at the religious event earlier this year.

Saudi Minister of Haj, Dr Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten, said the Saudi government welcomes all pilgrims and visitors irrespective of nationality and religious affiliation.

He added in comments published by Kuwait News Agency that the Saudi Ministry of Haj is organising talks with delegations from more than 80 nations, with the aim of ensuring a seamless and successful Haj season.

Iranian pilgrims did not attend this year’s Haj, which began in September, due to an escalating row between Tehran and Riyadh over the management of the pilgrimage.

In September, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei renewed criticism of Saudi Arabia over how it runs the haj after a crush last year killed hundreds of pilgrims, and suggested Muslim countries think about ending Riyadh’s control of the annual pilgrimage.

Saudi Arabia accused Iran, its main regional rival, of seeking to politicise the event, saying in turn that Iran was compromising safety with its actions.

Custodian of Islam’s most revered places in Makkah and Madinah, Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on organising haj, one of the five pillars of Islam which every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to is obliged to undertake at least once.

Riyadh said 769 pilgrims were killed in the 2015 disaster – the highest haj death toll since a crush in 1990. Counts of fatalities by countries who repatriated bodies showed that over 2,000 people may have died in the crush, more than 400 of them Iranians.

Iran blamed the 2015 disaster on organisers’ incompetence.

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