February 22, 2017 / 3:35 PM / 6 months ago

Iran sends delegation to Saudi for talks on rejoining haj

File Photot - An aerial view of the tents of Muslim pilgrims on the second day of Eid al-Adha in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, during the annual haj pilgrimage September 13, 2016.Ahmed Jadallah

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia for talks on Iranians attending haj, state television reported on Wednesday, after Tehran boycotted the Muslim pilgrimage last year.

Relations between the two regional powers, who back rival sides in several Middle East conflicts, worsened after hundreds of people, many of them Iranians, died in a crush at the 2015 pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Iran blamed the disaster on organizers' incompetence, and boycotted last year's haj.

Ties worsened further when Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia executed a Shi'ite cleric in January 2016, angry Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and Riyadh severed diplomatic relations.

Reza Salehi Amiri, Iran's Islamic guidance and culture minister, told state television that Tehran was seeking guarantees to ensure the "dignity and safety" of the pilgrims before it agrees for the resumption of its participation in the pilgrimage, which starts this year in late August.

The delegation -- including officials of Iran's Haj and Pilgrimage Organization and representatives of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- left for Saudi Arabia late on Tuesday at the invitation of Saudi officials, the television said.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom; editing by Sami Aboudi and Dominic Evans

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