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Four-Hour Meeting in Jeddah Results in Preliminary Deal with Iran on Hajj | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Muslim pilgrims pray around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque ahead of the annual haj pilgrimage in Mecca September 22, 2015./REUTERS

Jeddah-Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Mohammed Bantan held a meeting with Head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization Saeed Ohadi on Wednesday in Jeddah, informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The meeting resulted in a preliminary agreement regarding airlines, transportation, visas and consulate services for the Iranian pilgrims that will be handled by the Swiss Consulate in Saudi Arabia following the final deal, which will be agreed on Thursday.

During the meeting, Saudi officials confirmed that it is their country’s duty to protect the pilgrims, pointing out the fact that “some pilgrims arrive in the country carrying with them weapons and other equipment, and it is Saudi Arabia’s responsibility to prevent the, from entering the Kingdom.”

The officials stressed that the Kingdom “welcomes pilgrims from all over the world,” including Iranians who should respect the pilgrimage’s rituals.

The talks followed the refusal of the Iranian delegation last week to sign a Hajj agreement with the Kingdom that is mandatory for all countries sending pilgrims this year.

The Kingdom accused the Iranian government of playing politics and said it was responsible for blocking its own pilgrims in the eyes of Allah and its people.

The Saudi Council of Ministers last week accused Iran of attempting to politicize the Haj by refusing to sign the agreement with the Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry. It stated that there were no attempts made to block Iranian pilgrims.

Wednesday’s meeting lasted for around four hours, and it focused on activating the consulate’s work and dealing with the application forms through correspondence, sources from the closed meeting explained to Asharq Al-Awsat.

From the Iranian part, Saeed Ohadi expressed hope to sign an agreement that satisfies all parties. He also said that all what matters is the security and safety of the Iranian pilgrims.

Ohadi added: “We came here to communicate and keep in touch.”

At the end of the four-hour meeting, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah Hussein al-Sharif said a special deal was signed between the ministry and Saeed Ohadi.

Al-Sharif was quoted as saying the final agreement would be signed Thursday.

He said the Saudi side informed the Iranian delegation that Riyadh would not allow, as per the Kingdom’s rules, some specific rituals the Iranian pilgrims do.

The Saudi side, he added, underlined that all countries were treated equally and all were complying with the Saudi rules.

Al-Sharif described the meeting with the Iranians as “positive,” and that they would coordinate with the Saudi Foreign Ministry to allow the Iranian pilgrims to printout the entry visa in their country and the carrier would verify it.

It is worth mentioning that Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said during a joint press conference with his Swiss counterpart Didier Burkhalter in February that Switzerland offered to represent the interests of Saudi Arabia in Iran and those of Iran in Saudi Arabia, following the rupture of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Al-Jubeir thanked Switzerland for its services and said that his country accepted Switzerland’s proposition.

“Switzerland offered to handle the consular interests of Saudi Arabia in Iran, and we in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia appreciated that and accepted,” al-Jubeir said in a statement.