Amid strains, Qatar urges Iran, Gulf Arabs to be good neighbors

September 13, 2016 3:59 AM EDT

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani looks on during a welcome ceremony in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, January 29, 2016. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic


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DUBAI (Reuters) - Qatar's Emir called for good neighborly relations between Gulf Arabs and Iran in a telephone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Qatar media reported, amid fresh strains between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran over the haj pilgrimage.

Tensions have been rising since Gulf Arab allies variously cut or downgraded ties with Iran in January following the storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, itself a response to the Saudi execution of a dissident Shi'ite cleric.

Harsh exchanges in recent days between Saudi Arabia and Iran over Riyadh's running of the haj have further heightened emotions, after the two countries failed to agree on arrangements to allow Iranian pilgrims to take part.

State news agency QNA said Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani telephoned Rouhani to offer greetings for the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast which Muslims began celebrating on Monday.

It said he "asserted that Gulf-Iranian relations must focus on the principles of good neighborly relations, mutual respect and the need to resolve any Gulf-Iranian differences through dialogue and negotiations".

Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, the kingdom's top religious authority, last week described Iran's leaders as not Muslims, after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized Saudi Arabia over a crush at the haj last year that killed at least 700 pilgrims.

Iran's Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said the mufti's remarks were evidence of bigotry among Saudi leaders and suggested that the kingdom supports terrorism.

Western-allied Saudi Arabia and revolutionary theocracy Iran support opposite sides in regional conflicts in Syria and Yemen and have regularly accused each other of fomenting unrest in the Middle East.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi, Editing by William Macleam and Dominic Evans)



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