RFL/RE – Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on September 5 rejected overtures from Tehran to improve relations after the conclusion of last week’s annual hajj pilgrimage.
“If Iran wants to have good relations with Saudi Arabia, it has to change its policies. It has to respect international law,” Jubeir said at a press conference in London.
Iranian official Ali Ghazi-Askar, the head of the hajj organization in Tehran, had thanked Saudi Arabia for running a successful hajj and suggested it might open the way for negotiation over other matters.
“We thank Saudi Arabia…for adopting a new approach in dealing with Iranian pilgrims,” he said, according to the Iranian state broadcaster.
Ghazi-Askar said it presented an opportunity for the two sides to “resolve their bilateral issues in other fields.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also was quoted by the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) as saying that diplomatic visits he has been advocating could take place after the hajj.
Al-Jubeir dismissed Zarif’s comments as “laughable,” saying, “at this time, we do not see…that they’re serious about wanting to be a good neighbor.”
Saudi Arabia and Iran have longstanding differences over the conflicts in Yemen and Syria, among other regional matters.
They broke off diplomatic relations in January 2016 after Riyadh’s execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric prompted Iranians to storm the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.
The diplomatic split and worries about safety after hundreds of Iranian pilgrims were crushed by crowds during the 2015 hajj had prevented Iranians from participating in the hajj last year.
But talks between the two Persian Gulf rivals this year enabled about 86,000 Iranian pilgrims to take part.
Al-Jubeir said those talks did not amount to a “normalization” of relations.
“We had the hajj season, and when we have the hajj, we try not to politicize it… But this is not normalization,” he said. “The meetings around the hajj, have nothing to do with the politics. It’s a religious issue.”