Asharq Al Awsat/Preliminary Saudi Deal with Iran on Hajj/U.N. Envoy Speaks of Nearing Solution in Yemen


Four-Hour Meeting in Jeddah Results in Preliminary Deal with Iran on Hajj
Asma Al-Ghabiri/Asharq Al Awsat/May 26/16

Jeddah-Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Mohammed Bantan held a meeting with Head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization Saeed Ohadi on Wednesday in Jeddah, informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat. The meeting resulted in a preliminary agreement regarding airlines, transportation, visas and consulate services for the Iranian pilgrims that will be handled by the Swiss Consulate in Saudi Arabia following the final deal, which will be agreed on Thursday. During the meeting, Saudi officials confirmed that it is their country’s duty to protect the pilgrims, pointing out the fact that “some pilgrims arrive in the country carrying with them weapons and other equipment, and it is Saudi Arabia’s responsibility to prevent the, from entering the Kingdom.”The officials stressed that the Kingdom “welcomes pilgrims from all over the world,” including Iranians who should respect the pilgrimage’s rituals.

The talks followed the refusal of the Iranian delegation last week to sign a Hajj agreement with the Kingdom that is mandatory for all countries sending pilgrims this year. The Kingdom accused the Iranian government of playing politics and said it was responsible for blocking its own pilgrims in the eyes of Allah and its people. The Saudi Council of Ministers last week accused Iran of attempting to politicize the Haj by refusing to sign the agreement with the Saudi Hajj and Umrah Ministry. It stated that there were no attempts made to block Iranian pilgrims. Wednesday’s meeting lasted for around four hours, and it focused on activating the consulate’s work and dealing with the application forms through correspondence, sources from the closed meeting explained to Asharq Al-Awsat.

From the Iranian part, Saeed Ohadi expressed hope to sign an agreement that satisfies all parties. He also said that all what matters is the security and safety of the Iranian pilgrims.
Ohadi added: “We came here to communicate and keep in touch.”At the end of the four-hour meeting, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah Hussein al-Sharif said a special deal was signed between the ministry and Saeed Ohadi. Al-Sharif was quoted as saying the final agreement would be signed Thursday. He said the Saudi side informed the Iranian delegation that Riyadh would not allow, as per the Kingdom’s rules, some specific rituals the Iranian pilgrims do. The Saudi side, he added, underlined that all countries were treated equally and all were complying with the Saudi rules.

Al-Sharif described the meeting with the Iranians as “positive,” and that they would coordinate with the Saudi Foreign Ministry to allow the Iranian pilgrims to printout the entry visa in their country and the carrier would verify it. It is worth mentioning that Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said during a joint press conference with his Swiss counterpart Didier Burkhalter in February that Switzerland offered to represent the interests of Saudi Arabia in Iran and those of Iran in Saudi Arabia, following the rupture of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Al-Jubeir thanked Switzerland for its services and said that his country accepted Switzerland’s proposition. “Switzerland offered to handle the consular interests of Saudi Arabia in Iran, and we in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia appreciated that and accepted,” al-Jubeir said in a statement.

U.N. Envoy Speaks of Nearing Solution in Yemen
Arafat Madabish//Asharq Al Awsat/May 26/16
Riyadh- U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that the Yemeni peace talks are anticipating a solution just right around the corner. Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper was able to procure information from political sources informed with the matter that international parties, along with some warring parties participating, are working on concluding an agreement which will put an end to the ongoing war in Yemen. The work plan will be provided along with a timeline, including the implementation of U.N. resolution 2216, the return of the government to effective authority and the turn in of all armaments.Ould Cheikh Ahmed said that discussions on Tuesday centered on “various military and security issues including withdrawals and troop movements”.

The sources withheld from mentioning further details and naming the international parties contributing to the progress of a political settlement in Yemen. However, they hinted that a solution is nearing at the Kuwait-held peace talks.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed had resorted to the help of a prominent Yemeni political figure in order to downsize and limit the difficult challenges facing unresolved arguments at the negotiations, sources added. Developments are occurring in light of ongoing negotiations, battlefield escalations and fiery speeches laid by insurgent Houthi leaderships against the peace talks and peace-sponsoring countries in Yemen. Not to mention that Houthi insurgents had repeatedly threatened to form a self-imposed government in Sanaa’.“We are moving towards a general understanding that encompasses the expectations and visions of the parties,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed said in a statement late Tuesday.

“The discussions have become more sensitive and delicate bringing us closer to a comprehensive agreement,” he said. “We are now working on abolishing the current obstacles and are discussing practical details to an executive mechanism that makes sessions more sensitive and brings us closer to reaching an agreement,” he added. On the other hand, a Western diplomat familiar with the talks said they had achieved considerable progress. “We are in a stage where the parties have to make hard choices and compromises,” the diplomat told AFP, adding that he was “very optimistic” that a deal could be reached.

“We have not seen this momentum towards peace in the past one and a half years… a roadmap plan has been laid down… and it has to work,” he said. Moreover, and according to the U.N. envoy, two sessions were held with the government’s delegation on Tuesday. The meetings focused on withdrawal mechanisms, connecting the political aspect with the security framework and setting an action plan for the next stage.

Ould Cheikh Ahmed’s statements contradict remarks he made a day earlier when he said a breakthrough would probably “take a long time.”Yemen has been plagued by chaos since late 2014 when the Houthis – along with forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh – took over capital Sanaa’ and several other parts of the country.