Iran says hajj success opens way for talks with Saudi
TEHRAN – Agence France-PresseIran thanked Saudi Arabia yesterday for its handling of the annual hajj pilgrimage, saying it opened the way for negotiations between the regional rivals.
“We thank Saudi Arabia... for adopting a new approach in dealing with Iranian pilgrims,” said Ali Ghazi-Askar, the head of the hajj organization in Tehran, according to the state broadcaster.
Some 86,000 Iranian pilgrims took part last week in the hajj. They were unable to attend in 2016 after talks collapsed over security concerns.
Iran had been highly critical of Saudi Arabia’s organization efforts in the wake of a stampede during the 2015 hajj that killed up to 2,300 people, including hundreds of Iranians.
“There are always differences arising among countries but the important thing is for the parties to resolve differences through dialogue and negotiation,” said Ghazi-Askar, according to the ISNA news agency.
“Right now, after holding a successful hajj, it is a good time for both parties to negotiate to resolve their bilateral issues in other fields.”
The two countries severed diplomatic relations after Iranians stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran in January 2016 in response to Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif remained circumspect, however, saying he had yet to see “a clear prospect for change” in the relationship.
“If such a development occurs in the Saudis’ mentality, it will definitely be a positive development and will be met with Iran’s positive reaction,” he told Khabar Online newspaper.