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Iran confirms Saudi delegation plan to visit Tehran

Iran has confirmed a report that a Saudi Arabian delegation will travel to Tehran, less than two years after the kingdom unilaterally ruptured its relations with the Islamic Republic.

According to Press TV, the confirmation by Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi on Sunday came after Kuwaiti daily Al Jarida said the Saudi officials would take the trip following the Muslim festivities of Eid al-Adha, which will end on Monday.

The kingdom broke off its ties in January 2016 in protest at demonstrations in front of its diplomatic premises in Tehran and holy city of Mashhad against its execution of leading Shia Cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

After cutting the ties, Saudi Arabia also halted cooperation on arranging Hajj pilgrimage trips for Iranian nationals.

The Kuwaiti paper said the Saudi team would be visiting its diplomatic facilities in Iran. It said the delegation was initially supposed to take the trip two months ago, but differences with Iranian officials concerning the arrangements postponed the visit.

Ties began to deteriorate following a human crush in Mina, near the Saudi holy city of Mecca, in September 2015, which killed thousands of pilgrims, including hundreds of Iranians. The incident cast doubt on the kingdom’s efficiency in hosting the rituals.

Iran is still pressing Saudi Arabia to clarify the circumstances of the incident and a separate crane crash earlier that month in which another number of Iranian pilgrims were killed.

On Saturday, Representative of Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei in Hajj and Pilgrimage Affairs Seyyed Ali Qazi-Askar told Iranian pilgrims in Mina that the Islamic Republic was pursuing the cases of “martyrs” in Saudi Arabia.

He “expressed hope that follow-up efforts in this regard would yield the desired outcome as soon as possible,” IRNA reported.

Tensions between the two countries eased considerably recently during preparations for the pilgrimage this year when Iranian Hajj officials and diplomats met with Saudi officials to discuss arrangements for Iranian pilgrims.

According to Al Jarida, an Iranian delegation is expected to visit Saudi Arabia following the mission by the Saudi assessment team amid hopes that the exchange of visits would mark the start of a new chapter in the relations between the two countries, particularly as bilateral contacts would be open and direct instead of via third parties.

The paper said Iranians were looking forward to the visits succeeding in settling differences and the resumption of diplomatic ties, adding Tehran viewed the presence of the Saudi team in Iran as an indication of the kingdom’s intention to resume diplomatic relations.

More than 80,000 Iranian pilgrims are now in Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest sites, after they avoided the trip last year because Riyadh failed to provide assurances about their safety.

The return of Iranian pilgrims followed painstaking negotiations between officials from the two countries.

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that if all goes smoothly, the pilgrimage could set the stage for further talks. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also said last month that Iran and Saudi Arabia were preparing to exchange diplomatic visits.

“The visas have been issued for both sides to make this trip,” he told a local news outlet.

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