Iranian pilgrims will participate Haj rituals in 2017: Saudi Govt

Posted March 20, 2017

Saudi Arabia said on Friday it had completed all necessary arrangements for Iranian pilgrims to attend the annual Haj pilgrimage, the official SPA news agency said, an issue that has created tensions between the two regional powers in the past.

Previous year was the first time in almost three decades Iranian pilgrims did not attend.

Saudi Arabia has long presented its invasion of Yemen as being about the Shi'ites there being an "Iranian proxy", though evidence suggests no real Iranian support for the Houthi movement before the invasion, and very limited support, mostly to spite the Saudis, afterwards. The White House has said the deal was not in the best interest of the United States.

Although the verbal sparring continued, Saudi media reported in December that the Saudi minister in charge of pilgrimages, Mohammed Bentin, had invited Iran to discuss arrangements for this year's hajj.

In early March, Iran said there had been progress.

Iran rejects accusations of regional aggression and says Saudi Arabia must stop its alleged support for Sunni "terrorist" groups.

Fawaz A Gerges, professor of worldwide relations at the London School of Economics and the Emirates Chair in Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies told The Independent: "We are witnessing a marked shift from the Obama administration to the Trump administration vis-a-vis the Gulf and Saudi Arabia".

A major issue was compensation for the families of hundreds of people killed in a stampede during the 2015 hajj.

More than 1.8 million faithful took part in last year's hajj.

The pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam, and every able Muslim is obliged to undertake the trip at least once in their life.

Iranian pilgrims have for the past two years not attended the lesser pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in western Saudi Arabia, known as umrah, which occurs outside hajj.

Ahmed bin Misfir Al-Ghamdi, deputy president of Saudi Telecom Company (STC), said the king's visit to Asia reflects the Kingdom's leading role in serving Islam and all people.

The relationship between the two countries will also not be limited to diplomatic ties and during the meeting, the two sides discussed the creation of a new US-Saudi programme, which would start initiatives in the energy, industry, infrastructure, and technology sectors, with opportunities worth more than $200 billion (£162bn) the statement from the White House said.