Iran says not sending Haj pilgrims this year

Updated 29 May 2016
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Iran says not sending Haj pilgrims this year

TEHRAN/JEDDAH: Iran’s culture minister on Sunday said Iranians will not take part in this year’s Haj, set for September. More than 60,000 Iranians took part in last year's Haj.
Ali Jannati’s announcement, reported by Agence France Presse, comes two days after his delegation left the kingdom “after two series of negotiations without any results.”
Iran pointed to “obstacles” raised by Saudi Arabia, the AFP report said.
The Saudi Ministry of Haj and Umrah on Friday chided the Iranian Haj delegation for playing politics by refusing to sign the minutes of an agreement negotiated earlier this week between the two sides.
It said it had offered “many solutions” to meet a string of demands made by the Iranians in two days of talks.
Agreement had been reached in some areas, including the of use electronic visas which could be printed out by Iranian pilgrims, as Saudi diplomatic missions remain shut in Iran, it said.
Riyadh cut ties with Tehran in January after Iranian fanatics torched its embassy and a consulate following its execution of a prominent Shiite man convicted of sedition.
Despite Tehran’s politicking, Saudi Arabia remains committed to serving pilgrims from across the world, and making the journey safe and comfortable for them, the ministry said.
The ministry stated that the Iranian delegation had been made comfortable during their stay while in Jeddah, including having arrangements made for members to perform Umrah.
There had been intense discussions on Wednesday and Thursday on all issues, included having visas issued for Iranian pilgrims by the Swiss Embassy in their country, acting on behalf of the Saudi government, and equal division of pilgrims between the Saudi and Iranian national carriers.
Earlier this month, Iran had accused its regional rival of seeking to “sabotage” the Haj, a pillar of Islam that devout Muslims must perform at least once during their lifetime if they are able.
Tehran said Riyadh had insisted that visas for Iranians be issued in a third country and would not allow pilgrims to be flown aboard Iranian aircraft.
But the Saudi Haj ministry said Friday that Riyadh had agreed to allow Iranians to obtain visas through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which has looked after Saudi interests since ties were severed in January.
Riyadh also agreed to allow some Iranian carriers to fly pilgrims to the kingdom despite a ban imposed on Iranian airlines following the diplomatic row between the two countries, the ministry said.
Last week’s talks were the second attempt by the two countries to reach a deal on organizing this year’s pilgrimage for Iranians after an unsuccessful first round held in April in Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi ministry said at the time that the Iranian Haj Organization would be held responsible “in front of God and the people for the inability of its pilgrims to perform Haj this year.”
Another contentious issue has been security, after a deadly stampede during last year’s Haj.

(With input from AFP)


US denies ‘final conclusion’ reached on Khashoggi case

Updated 18 November 2018
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US denies ‘final conclusion’ reached on Khashoggi case

  • A US newspaper published what it claimed were details of an intelligence report on the case
  • ‘The State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts’

JEDDAH: The US government denied on Saturday it had reached a final conclusion over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi after a US newspaper published what it claimed were details of an intelligence report on the case. 
“Recent reports indicating that the US government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
“There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. The State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts,” she said.
“In the meantime, we will continue to consult Congress, and work with other nations to hold accountable those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.”

But President Donald Trump told reporters on Saturday that his administration would get “a very full report,” including who was responsible for Khashoggi’s death, on Monday or Tuesday.
The Washington Post published an article citing anonymous sources, who it says are close to the CIA which suggests the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered the killing — something Saudi Arabia vehemently denies.
The Kingdom’s public prosecutor on Thursday released details of its investigation, saying the decision to kill the journalist was made by the head of a rogue mission during an attempt to repatriate him. The prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for five of the suspects. 
On Saturday, Donald Trump spoke with CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from Air Force One, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. 
Trump praised US relations with Saudi Arabia when he was asked about the case. Saudi Arabia is “a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development,” the US president said.
Earlier, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US Prince Khalid bin Salman, strongly denied the Washington Post story, and said he did not tell Khashoggi to go to Turkey, as the report claimed. 
“I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the US government to release any information regarding this claim,” Prince Khalid said
Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was a columnist for the Post.
He was killed on Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul after he went to get marriage documents.