May 12, 2016 / 1:37 PM / 2 years ago

Iranian Muslims to miss haj pilgrimage amid rift with Saudi

ANKARA (Reuters) - Iranian Muslims will miss the annual haj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in September, media reported on Thursday, as Tehran and Riyadh traded blame over a failure to agree organizational details.

EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to report, film or take pictures in Tehran. Iranian worshippers pray during Eid al-Adha prayers at a university in Tehran in this file photo taken on November 28, 2009. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

The regional rivals cut diplomatic ties in January.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted Tehran’s Islamic Guidance and Culture Minister Ali Jannati as blaming Riyadh for the impasse. Last year’s haj was marred by the death of over 2,000 pilgrims, 464 of them Iranian, in a crush during the crowded pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.

“The arrangements have not been put together and it’s now too late,” said Jannati, whose ministry oversees arrangements for Iranian pilgrims. “The sabotage is coming from the Saudi side.”

The Saudi haj ministry said Tehran’s delegation had refused to sign an agreement laying out arrangements for this year’s haj, according to a statement carried by state-linked news site Sabq.

The statement said Iran’s demands included the granting of visas inside Iran and transport arrangements that would evenly split the pilgrims between Saudi and Iranian airlines.

“Iran is the only country that refused to sign the agreement on the haj. It insisted on a number of unacceptable demands,” Minister of Haj and Umra Mohammed Bintin told state television station Ekhbariya.

The two countries severed ties after protesters in Iran attacked Saudi diplomatic missions there following the execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric in the Sunni-led kingdom.

Saudi Arabia’s conservative Sunni monarchy sees Shi’ite- dominated Iran as the paramount threat to Middle East stability because of its support for Shi’ite militias that Riyadh says have inflamed sectarian violence.

Iranian and Saudi officials have held talks to resolve the rift but so far failed to make progress, Iranian officials said.

Jannati said the Saudis “did not accept our proposals on security, transportation and visa issuing for Iranian pilgrims”.

A culture ministry official said Iran was “very concerned over the security of Iranians during the holy ceremony” and that talks with Saudi authorities were continuing.

Tehran expressed outrage last year after the deaths of Iranians at the haj, which drew about two million pilgrims from around the world, and politicians in Tehran suggested Riyadh was incapable of managing the event.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Katie Paul; Editing by Tom Heneghan and John Stonestreet

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