Manama: Iran will not send would-be pilgrims this year to perform Haj, the fifth pillar of Islam, in Saudi Arabia.

Culture Minister Ali Jannati on Sunday attributed the decision to “obstructions raised by Saudi Arabia.”

“We waited for the response of Saudi officials until today, but given their behaviour in the two rounds of negotiations with an Iranian delegation and the obstructions they have created, Iranian pilgrims cannot perform the rituals this year,’ Jannati said. He did not elaborate on the nature of the “obstructions.”

A formal announcement on Tehran’s cancellation of the Haj for Iranian nationals is expected to be made tomorrow, he added.

Two rounds of negotiations have taken place between the two countries, but there has been no resolution, he said, adding that he was sorry Iranians will not be able to do Haj this year.

The decision was announced two days after the Iranian delegation dispatched to the Red Sea city of Jeddah to discuss the arrangements related to the Iranian pilgrims returned home without signing an accord with Saudi Arabia.

Last week’s failed talks were the second between the two sides ahead of the Haj season in September.

All countries that send pilgrims sign an agreement with Saudi authorities to coordinate the visas, travel and stay of their nationals during the religious event that brings together around three million Muslims from all over the world.

Saudi Arabia on Friday said that Iran would be responsible before God and in front of its own people if its citizens are not able to perform Haj this year.

The Saudi Ministry of Haj and Umrah said in a statement that the members of an Iranian delegation who arrived on Tuesday in Jeddah to discuss the arrangements for the pilgrimage in September left Saudi Arabia without signing the necessary agreement.

The two sides reportedly held lengthy negotiations on Wednesday over the arrangements and issued statements afterwards described the talks as “positive”.

The formal signing of the final accord was scheduled for Thursday.

However, the Iranian delegation did not show up for the signing and eventually left on Friday without the formal accord that paves the way for Iranians to perform Haj.

The statement said that the two sides discussed all issues and that the ministry suggested solutions to all points raised by the Iranians.

The Saudi ministry said that it approved issuing Haj visas electronically from Iran since Saudi Arabia had severed ties with Iran following attacks on its embassy in Tehran and its general consulate in the northern city of Mashhad and there were no diplomatic mission in the country.

Riyadh also agreed to allow Iran’s national airline to carry Iranian pilgrims into Saudi Arabia even though Iranian planes are not allowed to land in the kingdom.

The ministry also approved the Iranian request to be diplomatically represented through the Swiss embassy to look after the interests of Iranian pilgrims, the statement added.

“However, at dawn on Friday the Iranian delegation expressed its desire to leave for home without signing the minutes of the arrangements for the Iranian pilgrims,” the statement said.

“Accordingly, the Ministry of Haj and Umrah is confirming that the delegation of the Iranian Haj and Visit Organisation that refused to sign the minutes of the arrangements for Iranian pilgrims will be responsible before Allah Almighty and before its own people for the inability of the Iranian citizens to perform Haj this year.”

The ministry added that Saudi Arabia “categorically rejects the politicisation of the Haj rituals.

“The Ministry of Haj and Umrah is always ready to cooperate for serving the pilgrims and facilitating their arrival procedures”, the statement added.

Islam requires all physically fit and financially able Muslims to perform Haj at least once in their lifetime.