Iran says it plans to open an interests section in Saudi Arabia, two years after the kingdom unilaterally broke off its diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic.
“There have been advances made in the past two weeks, and I believe there are signs that the interests section will open and become operational,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi on Saturday.
Saudi Arabia cut its ties with Iran in early 2016 following angry rallies held in front of its diplomatic missions in the capital Tehran and the holy city of Mashhad against the kingdom’s execution of senior Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Switzerland has been representing Iranian interests in Saudi Arabia under an agreement reached with Bern eight months ago, Qassemi said, adding the interests section office would be located in the Swiss Embassy in Riyadh.
The office will deal with the issue of Iranian Hajj pilgrims, which has been the point of much contention between the two countries for years.
Iran held Saudi Arabia responsible for the death of thousands of Muslims during a stampede in 2015. Saudi Arabia claims nearly 770 people were killed in the incident, but Iranian officials say about 4,700 people, including more than 460 Iranians, lost their lives in the tragedy.
The incident came shortly after a huge construction crane collapsed into Mecca’s Grand Mosque, killing more than 100 pilgrims, including some Iranians.
Iran did not send pilgrims for Hajj the next year after Saudi Arabia fell short of ensuring guarantees for the safety of pilgrims.
Asked about possible rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh, Qassemi said, “We have declared this time and again that we are ready for negotiation with regional countries, even Saudi Arabia.”
The official said the Islamic Republic has never rejected offers by third countries to mediate between Tehran and Riyadh.
Ever since breaking its ties with Iran, the kingdom has ramped up its negative rhetoric against the Islamic Republic over its role in the region.
Qassemi said, “We are not the ones to blame for what has or has not happened in the region.”
Saudi Arabia has been attacking its southern neighbor Yemen since March 2015 and accusing Iran of supporting the Houthis. The Saudi war has killed thousands and placed Yemen on the edge of outright famine.