Hajj Smoothes Path for Tehran-Riyadh Dialogue

Hajj Smoothes Path for Tehran-Riyadh Dialogue

A lawmaker said the successful hajj talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia could be expanded to help settle the wide-ranging differences, expressing hope the two regional powers would hold fence-mending dialogue that the chaotic region desperately needs.
Last week, nearly two million worshippers from across the world took part in hajj, the spiritual journey to Mecca that all able-bodied Muslims with financial means must make at least once in their lifetime.
This year, around 86,000 faithful Iranians were also in Saudi Arabia to perform the annual ritual that started last Wednesday and ended on Monday.
Iranians were absent in last year's hajj, after Tehran and Riyadh failed to reach agreement on security arrangements following a tragic stampede during the 2015 hajj that killed thousands of pilgrims, including 464 Iranians.
But the two countries reached an agreement on Iran's participation in the 2017 hajj in March when Tehran said the other side provided "written assurances" it would meet all of its security conditions.
Last week, President Hassan Rouhani said the successful organization of hajj could set the stage for further talks.

  Sense of Fraternity
Seyyed Kamaleddin Shahriari, the lawmaker, told ICANA on Monday it appears that the hajj pilgrimage, the symbol of "unity and integrity" among Muslim, has fostered a "sense of fraternity" between the two regional powers.
"The establishment of amicable relations between the two countries can allow them to work toward advancing shared interests and prove influential in promoting peace and stability in the region," he said.
A long period of worsening tensions, escalated by the 2015 hajj incident, led to a severance of relations by an increasingly aggressive Saudi Arabia early 2016.
Riyadh has since then opted to keep the door of dialogue closed and tensions between the two countries have remained at an all-time high.
The Iranian government went to great lengths to heal widening fissures with Saudi Arabia that has accused Iran of aspiring to dominate the Middle East and employed checkbook diplomacy to tilt regional states toward itself and against Tehran.  
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has frequently invited Saudis to talks to help settle differences, but his overtures have been spurned by Riyadh.
However, the successful hajj negotiations and a series of Saudi signals in the past few months, including a handshake between Zarif and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir early August and the reported Saudi request from Iraq to mediate between the two countries, have led to speculations that the Saudi government is pragmatically moving toward a Tehran detente.  
Zarif announced late last month visas have been issued for Riyadh to send diplomats to visit and inspect their empty missions.
"The diplomatic exchange would probably happen after this year's hajj," Zarif said.


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