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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Riyadh and Tehran agree diplomatic exchange to inspect embassy buildings

Visas and flight clearance have been issued for the Saudi delegation, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said

Iran has approved a visit by Saudi diplomats to inspect the damage caused to its embassy and a consulate by protesters last year.

Visas and flight clearance have been issued for the Saudi delegation, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasimi said.

Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic relations with Iran after its embassy in Tehran and the consulate in Meshad were attacked during protests against Saudi Arabia’s execution of Nimr Al Nimr, a Shiite cleric convicted of terrorism, in January last year. Both buildings have been vacant since, the Iranian foreign ministry said.

The Saudi diplomats "are likely to arrive in Iran after the Hajj season", the ministry said on it website.

More than 80,000 Iranian pilgrims travelled to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj this year in what was seen as a step towards restoring ties between the regional rivals. Iranians did not take part last year as Riyadh and Tehran failed to agree on arrangements for their travel and safety following a deadly Hajj stampede in 2015 in which hundreds of Iranian pilgrims were among those killed.

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani said last month that an incident-free Hajj for Iranian pilgrims this year could build confidence between the regional rivals.

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Iranian diplomats will also visit Saudi Arabia, under a bilateral agreement that "allows the Iranian and Saudi delegations to travel to the other country to inspect their diplomatic headquarters in Riyadh and Tehran", Mr Qasimi said.

A source close to the Iranian foreign minister told Kuwait's Al Jareeda newspaper that the Iranian diplomats' visit the Saudi capital would take place this month.

The source said the Saudi delegation had requested meetings while in Iran with judges and officials following up on the attacks on it missions, but the foreign ministry could not arrange these.

Differences between the two countries had eased during meetings on arrangements for the Hajj, the source said. Members of the Iranian Hajj organisation and diplomats at these meetings were some of the very few Iranian officials to have made contact with Riyadh over the last two years.

The meetings were said to have gone smoothly and could provide a basis for talks on more difficult issues between the two countries.

The source said Iran was preparing a diplomatic delegation to visit Riyadh after the visit of the Saudi diplomats to Tehran, in the hope that this would be the beginning of resolving their differences.

There was a "need to find channels of direct communication between the two countries to resolve the differences, which include several concerns in the region", the source told Al Jareeda.

Details were supposedly discussed during a short meeting between the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers in Turkey last month, where they were attending a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation.