Saudi-Iranian dialogue transferred to Oman in second round after Baghdad

Muscat would like the relationship with Riyadh to move beyond the contentious legacies of past conflicts.

Tuesday 15/06/2021
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrives in the sultanate of Oman. (Twitter)
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrives in the sultanate of Oman. (Twitter)

MUSCAT - Omani political sources linked the visit of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan to the sultanate of Oman to reports about an impending transfer of dialogue sessions between Riyadh and Tehran from Baghdad to Muscat.

However, they stressed that the exchange of visits and delegations could also provide Muscat and Riyadh with an opportunity to build new relations free of the contentious legacies of past conflicts.

Sources told The Arab Weekly that the sultanate is endeavouring to bring the Saudi-Iranian views closer at the same time that it is undertaking a mediation for a settlement in Yemen.

They say that Muscat will host the second phase of the dialogue between the two countries after Iraq hosted the first phase, which consisted of introductory sessions in which each side presented its demands and also exchanged words of courtesy while working at building mutual trust.

Sources indicated that Oman is exploiting the greater warmth in its relationship with Saudi Arabia to achieve a new breakthrough that will be an additional feather in the cap of its active diplomacy, which in the past succeeded in laying the ground for the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the five +1 countries.

It is also currently working to achieve a breakthrough in the Yemen crisis after an Omani security delegation visited Houthi leadership in Sana’a.

An Omani political source who talked to The Arab Weekly, was optimistic about his country’s ability to solve the Yemeni conflict despite all remaining hurdles, even if the matter will take some time.

The Omani news agency ONA reported that Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan had arrived in the Sultanate for a short visit, Monday.

The agency added that the Saudi minister “carried a verbal message from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz to Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, related to relations between the two countries and prospects for strengthening them.”

The sultanate of Oman is aware of the importance of ties with Saudi Arabia especially since Gulf support could a play a crucial role in pulling it out of its severe economic crisis.

Muscat also wants to break free of the ambiguities that have plagued the relationship with the kingdom for years.

An informed Saudi source said that the Saudi-Omani links have continued to suffer from the impact of the Buraimi Oasis conflict of the 1950s and 1960s, and have not overcome the fallout of Saudi Arabia’s role in what became known in the Arab world as the “war” of the Green Mountain of Jabal Akhdar.

In that war, which lasted for four years up until 1959 , Saudi Arabia provided covert support to the rebels against Sultan Qaboos bin Said and his father Sultan Said bin Taimur before him.

The source added that the most important breakthrough now is the Iranian factor since Muscat is aware of Tehran’s tough predicament which put Oman in a good bargaining position allowing it to obtain better results.

The source explained that on the level of Omani-Saudi relations much depends now on the willingness of Riyadh to overcome the contentious legacies of the past and build a new relationship.

The Saudis view negotiations with Iran as a necessity for a solution in Yemen. They see the Houthis as not holding to hard-line positions on issues of specific concern to them during the ongoing talks.

The main areas of dispute are related instead to the broader game that Iran is playing in order to clinch concessions on other fronts, whether with Saudi Arabia and the countries of the region or on the course of its nuclear programme and the negotiations about it under way in Vienna.

Observers believe that the kingdom has become convinced that dialogue with Iran is the best way to resolve the thorny issues between the two countries, including the Yemen crisis.

About a month ago, Baghdad hosted a meeting between Saudi and Iranian officials in an attempt to bridge the gap between Riyadh and Tehran and calm the situation in the region.

The Financial Times revealed May 7 that high-ranking Saudi and Iranian officials held direct talks in an attempt to repair relations between the two countries.

The discussions remained under tights wraps for a while. But exclusive sources said Riyadh and Tehran discussed the future of the conflict in Syria, the formation of a Lebanese government and a ceasefire in Yemen, noting that any Saudi-Iranian understanding will require several rounds, which may take a few months, before reaching any tangible results.

Tensions grew between Riyadh and Tehran because of the Yemen war, as the Iran-aligned Houthi group stepped up its attacks on Saudi Arabia.

These tensions further worsened after the 2019 attack on Saudi oil facilities, which Riyadh blamed on Iran, a charge Tehran denied.

The Saudis are moving on more than one front to push Iran to end escalation and cease threats to regional security. They are reported to be pressing for the negotiated nuclear agreement to include clear Iranian commitments in this regard.

Riyadh’s wishes are not met with a lot of enthusiasm in the United States, which wants before anything else to expedite talks about the nuclear agreement and put the Iran’s nuclear programme under tight international control.