Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday that it had not reached any special “understanding” with Iran over the annual hajj pilgrimage following allegations of Iranian involvement in a plot to murder the Saudi ambassador in Washington.
“There is no understanding because there is no need for it,” Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz said said when asked if there were any arrangements being made for Iranians pilgrimage heading to Mecca in the wake of the alleged murder plot.
“The Iranians have always shown their respect for the hajj,” the crown prince told a news conference during an inspection tour of preparations for the annual hajj Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Islams’ holiest site.
Iran has earlier voiced hope that the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia currently will be “very calm” despite bilateral tensions worsened by US allegations of an Iran plot to kill a Saudi ambassador.
Prince Nayef, who also holds the interior portfolio, warned however that Saudi Arabia would take “all means” to ensure a peaceful pilgrimage during the hajj which starts later this week.
“The kingdom is ready to face up to all situations, whatever they may be,” he said.
“We will use peaceful means in case of trouble,” he said in statements carried by the official SPA news agency.
“We will mobilise all our means to prevent any harm against any pilgrim or any group of pilgrims,” he added.
A total 97,000 Iranians — the maximum allowed for Iran under a Saudi system apportioning pilgrim quotas among the world’s biggest Muslim countries — were now in the holy Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina, Iranian media said Monday, quoting Iran’s pilgrimage chief Ali Layali.
The representative of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the pilgrimage, Hojatoleslam Ali Ghazi Asgar, was quoted last week saying: “We hope this year’s hajj (pilgrimage) will take place in a very calm and spiritual atmosphere.”
Saudi security forces have several times in the past confronted Iranian pilgrims holding anti-US and anti-Israeli protests.
In 1987, Saudi police efforts to stifle such a demonstration sparked clashes in which 402 people died, including 275 Iranians.
Already strained ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia became taut last month when the United States accused Iranian officials of having a hand in a thwarted plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington.
Iran has strongly denied involvement and emphasised “good relations” with its Arab neighbour across the Gulf.
More than 1.5 million Muslims have arrived in Saudi Arabia for the hajj, state media reported on Monday.
Hajj rituals will begin on Friday and the pilgrimage will peak on Saturday.