Iran sees progress in Haj talks with Saudi Arabia

TEHRAN: Iran said on Sunday there had been progress in talks with Saudi Arabia on allowing citizens of the Islamic republic to join this year’s Haj, despite some remaining issues. Iranians were barred from attending last year’s Haj after the two countries severed diplomatic ties and failed to agree on security measures.

“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. Talks have been ongoing since an Iranian delegation travelled to Saudi Arabia on Feb 22.

Last year marked the first time in nearly three decades that Iran was barred from Haj. 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.

Askar said Iran had also raised the sexual assault of two Iranian teenage boy pilgrims by Saudi police in Jeddah airport earlier that year. “The culprits have been sentenced by Saudi Arabia to four years in prison and 1,000 lashes and dismissed from duty,” Askar said.

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