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MP: Successful Hajj Signals New Saudi Approach

MP: Successful Hajj Signals New Saudi ApproachMP: Successful Hajj Signals New Saudi Approach

A lawmaker expressed satisfaction with the Saudi fulfillment of its commitment to ensure the security of Iranian hajj pilgrims, voicing hope that it signals a new Saudi approach toward its northern neighbor and allows for restoration of ties between the two nations.

Early this month, about 86,000 Iranian pilgrims joined nearly two million worshippers from across the world in Saudi Arabia to take part in hajj, the spiritual journey to Mecca that able-bodied Muslims who have financial means must make at least once in their lifetime.

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 came to 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.

In a recent interview with ICANA, Mohammad Ali Abtahi said reports show the 2017 hajj has been "one of the finest and safest" in the past couple of years.

Abtahi said the successful organization of this years' hajj was not possible without the strong will of Saudi authorities to respect Iranians and observe their rights, citing the careful Saudi handling of an incident involving an Iranian pilgrim.

The lawmaker was referring to an Iranian cleric who was injured by unknown assailants in Mecca on Sept. 6.

The Saudi officials quickly sent the pilgrim to hospital. Security forces arrested three suspects and are currently investigating them.

  Icebreaker

Abtahi, a principlist lawmaker, said he is upbeat that Riyadh will opt for a change of tack toward Iran and that hajj, a symbol of Muslim unity, acts as a diplomatic icebreaker between the two nations.

The lawmaker said the only beneficiaries of divisions among Muslims are "enemies of Islam".

"Together, we can tackle problems the Zionists and global arrogance created [for Muslims] and foil their plots," Abtahi said.

The feud between Iran and Saudi Arabia has dominated the political landscape of West Asia in the past couple of years.

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.

Iran has frequently invited Saudi Arabia to dialogue for settling differences, but its overtures have been spurned by Riyadh that accuses Tehran of aspiring to dominate the Middle East.

But the successful hajj negotiations and a series of other signs in the past few months, including a handshake between Zarif and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir early August and reported Saudi demands from Iraq to mediate between the two countries, led to speculations that the Saudi government is pragmatically moving toward detente.

The House of Saud's recurrent defeats in the region, particularly in Yemen and Syria conflicts, and its failure in isolating Iran fueled the rumors.

However, remarks by Jubeir earlier this month that denied warming of relations with Iran poured cold water on prospects for Tehran-Riyadh rapprochement.

 

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