By Mahmoud Eskaf, Middle East Observer
Iran said on Sunday there had been a progress in talks with Saudi Arabia on allowing Iranian citizens to join this year’s Hajj, despite some remaining issues.
Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia was strained after thousands of people, many of them Iranians, died in a stampede at the 2015 hajj rituals.
Riyadh said 769 pilgrims were killed in the 2015 disaster – the highest hajj 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.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have failed to reach a deal on arrangements for Iranians to attend this year’s Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, with officials from both countries trading accusations on who was to blame for the impasse, and the Iranians didn’t attend Hajj last year.
However, much work has been done since then to solve this issue.
“Most of the questions up for discussion have been resolved and a couple of issues are remaining,” the ISNA news agency quoted Ali Ghazi Askar, the Iranian supreme leader’s representative for Haj affairs, as saying.
“If those questions are resolved, we hope pilgrims will soon be sent to Saudi Arabia,” he added, without giving details.
In addition, Iranian Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Seyyed Reza Salehi-Amiri said Iran is determined to dispatch pilgrims to Hajj if Saudi Arabia accepted certain conditions, Mehr news agency reported.
“Provided that Saudi Arabia accepts Iran’s conditions, the government’s decisive policy is to dispatch [pilgrims] to hajj,” Salehi-Amiri told reporters.
Salehi-Amiri further said that the two countries have had successful negotiations and reached agreements regarding some issues, adding that there still remains some issues that should be considered.
Talks have been ongoing since an Iranian delegation traveled to Saudi Arabia on February 22.
Last year marked the first time in nearly three decades that Iranians did not attend the pilgrimage, considered one of the most important religious obligations for able Muslims.
A key issue has been compensation for the families of hundreds of people killed in a stampede during the 2015 Haj. Iran says 464 of its citizens died in the disaster.