Saudi Arabia reaches out to Oman amid change of attitude on Iran
MUSCAT – Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud invited Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq to visit the Kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Sunday.
The invitation was handed to Oman’s Deputy Prime Minister for Cabinet Affairs Fahd bin Mahmud al-Said by visiting Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan at the Alam Palace in Muscat, the agency revealed.
Prince Faisal extended greetings and appreciation from King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, wishing the sultan and the Omani people progress and prosperity.
During the meeting, the two sides reviewed their bilateral relations and ways to enhance them in all fields. They also discussed regional and international developments, according to SPA.
Observers linked the visit of the Saudi minister to the flurry of diplomatic activity in the region and news about shifting dynamics that could see a rapprochement between Tehran and Arab Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan’s visit to Oman and before that his visit to Qatar came after two similar visits by Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif to Doha and Muscat.
Over the past few years, both Oman and Qatar have been playing a mediating role between Tehran and Riyadh. Political sources in the Gulf region did not rule out that Saudi Arabia is coordinating positions with other Gulf states regarding the progress of dialogue with Iran and the need to maintain a specific ceiling of conditions that Tehran must commit to in order to normalise relations.
In recent weeks, there has been unconfirmed news about Saudi and Iranian security officials holding talks in Iraq. The American daily newspaper The New York Times revealed Saturday Saudi Arabia and Iran are holding secret talks aimed at defusing current tensions.
The newspaper quoted Iraqi and Iranian officials as saying that the chief of Saudi intelligence had begun last month secret talks with a senior Iranian security official in Baghdad to discuss several areas of contention, including the war in Yemen and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq.
“While concrete signs of a new understanding between Saudi Arabia and Iran have yet to emerge and could take a long time, if they happen at all, even a cooling of tempers between the adversaries could echo in countries where their rivalry fuels political feuds and armed conflicts, including Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen,” the newspaper said in its report.
While Saudi Arabia seems intent on improving relations with Iran in principle, the kingdom is clearly not ready to abandon certain conditions, including the change of Tehran’s policies in the region, which have long involved meddling in Arab countries’ affairs with the aim of destabilising them.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called last week in a television interview for “a good and special relationship” with Tehran.
“Iran is a neighbouring country,” the crown prince said, adding “we do not want Iran’s situation to be difficult. On the contrary, we want Iran to grow… and to push the region and the world towards prosperity.”
He revealed that Riyadh was working with regional and global partners to find solutions to Tehran’s “negative behaviour.”
Observers say that formulating a unified Gulf position on the dialogue with Iran may be the immediate and pressing objective of Saudi Arabia, with the aim of creating momentum for the improvement of the dialogue’s conditions.
The meeting of the Saudi foreign minister and Oman’s deputy prime minister for cabinet affairs was attended by Oman’s Foreign Minister Badr bin Hamad bin Hamoud Al Busaidi.
The Omani news agency (ONA) reported the meeting, “reviewed the strong and growing relations between the Sultanate and the kingdom, stemming from the firm bonds binding the two countries’ brotherly peoples.”
It added, “The meeting also reviewed current issues pertaining to supporting the GCC March and the latest regional and international developments, as well as issues of common concern.”