Iran sends delegation to Saudi for talks on rejoining haj


 Reuters International

An aerial view of the Grand Mosque is seen on the second day of Eid al-Adha, during the annual haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca September 25, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia for talks on Iranians attending haj, state television reported on Wednesday, after Tehran boycotted the Muslim pilgrimage last year.

Relations between the two regional powers, who back rival sides in several Middle East conflicts, worsened after hundreds of people, many of them Iranians, died in a crush at the 2015 pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Iran blamed the disaster on organizers' incompetence, and boycotted last year's haj.

Ties worsened further when Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia executed a Shi'ite cleric in January 2016, angry Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and Riyadh severed diplomatic relations.

Reza Salehi Amiri, Iran's Islamic guidance and culture minister, told state television that Tehran was seeking guarantees to ensure the "dignity and safety" of the pilgrims before it agrees for the resumption of its participation in the pilgrimage, which starts this year in late August.

The delegation -- including officials of Iran's Haj and Pilgrimage Organization and representatives of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- left for Saudi Arabia late on Tuesday at the invitation of Saudi officials, the television said.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; editing by Sami Aboudi and Dominic Evans)

Reuters

 Reuters International