Manama: Saudi Arabia and Iran were expected to sign an agreement on Thursday after a series of “positive” talks regarding the pilgrimage visas to Iranian pilgrims.
The two countries have been locked in a dispute over the issue of Iranians performing Haj, the fifth ritual of Islam.
However, an Iranian delegation visited the kingdom this week and the talks focused on “arrangements, organisation and services” for pilgrims. A preliminary accord was reached.
Under the deal, the Swiss consulate in Saudi Arabia will be tasked with the air and land travels, visas, and consular services of the Iranian pilgrims.
The accord also stipulates that Iranian pilgrims will be given electronic visas that they will print in Iran, while airlines will be able to check the visas electronically, Emirati daily Al Bayan reported.
The Saudi authorities will coordinate with Switzerland which has offered to look after the interests of Saudi Arabia in Iran, after Riyadh severed its diplomatic relations with Tehran following the attacks on its diplomatic missions in the Iranian capital and in the northern city of Mashhad.
According to the deal, Saudi Arabia will ensure the security of the pilgrims, and it will confiscate any sharp items or metals the Iranian pilgrims might carry with them.
Saudi Haj Ministry Undersecretary Hussain Sharif was quoted as saying that the kingdom and its leadership “welcome pilgrims from all around the world”.
Iran has claimed that the Saudi authorities were preventing its nationals from performing Haj.
However, Saudi Arabia denied the claims.
“Saudi Arabia does not consider these issues - such as the easing of procedures for those wanting to make the pilgrimage and worship in the Holy Land and providing for their comfort and security - as political,” the Saudi embassy in Turkey said in a statement.
The embassy added that Saudi Arabia regarded them as “religious obligations emanating from the Muslim faith, because the sacred places fall within its borders.”
Saudi Arabia bores “no enmity” toward any particular country and would carry out its responsibility to provide for pilgrims’ security and comfort,” the embassy was quoted as saying by Turkish daily Sabah.
However, Saudi Arabia “would not allow anyone to harm its security and stability.”
Riyadh cut ties with Tehran in January after an angry mob burned its embassy and a consulate in the Iranian capital following the Saudi execution of anti-government Shiite cleric Nimr Al Nimr.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are also at odds over a raft of regional issues, notably the conflicts in Syria and Yemen in which they support opposing sides.