SMA NEWS – Muscat
In a rare public statement put out by the sultanate, which is usually mum about the meetings and consultations it hosts, whether related to the Yemeni crisis, the Iranian issue or other regional issues, the official Omani news agency (ONA) said, ” the sultanate of Oman is exerting efforts, in close coordination with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UN and the US envoys to Yemen and the Yemeni parties concerned, to hammer out a comprehensive political solution to the ongoing crisis in the Republic of Yemen.”
It added, “Oman hopes that these contacts will achieve the desired results shortly to help restore to Yemen its peace, security and stability and to safeguard the security and interests of the region’s countries.”
The Omani statement seems to confirm that the previously-unannounced talks that have been going on for months in Yemen have entered a stage of serious consultations and made progress towards confidence-building measures.
Muscat has endeavoured since the outbreak of the Yemeni war, to play a mediating role between regional and world powers, on the one hand, and the Houthi group, on the other.
By hosting the Houthi negotiating delegation, the Omani capital has turned into a major centre for discussions on the Yemen crisis.
Sources say Oman have been hosting unannounced bilateral meetings between representatives of the US administration and the Houthis since the famous meeting that brought together former US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Houthi delegation headed by Mohammad Abdul Salam in late 2016.
Muscat has worked to organise low-level encounters between the Saudi-led Arab coalition and the Houthis.
It has also hosted a series of talks between international and Western officials and the Houthi delegation, the most recent of which was the meeting that included the American envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking and the Houthi negotiating delegation to whom he handed a copy of the US initiative for a settlement in Yemen.
A number of Houthi officials, including the group’s chief negotiator, Muhammad Abdul Salam, has been staying in Muscat since the start of regional and international moves to find a negotiated solution to the crisis.
During the past few years, the sultanate of Oman had faced media and political criticism after accusations that it supports Houthi political and diplomatic activity.
Analysts say the Omani government’s activism on the Yemeni crisis, which took shape at the end of the reign of the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said, constituted a major shift in Omani foreign policy approach.
Contrary to its previous tendency to distance itself from regional and international disputes, Muscat exercised an active role in dealing with the Houthis, who have since made the Omani capital the centre of their diplomatic moves.
In recent days, Muscat has witnessed intense activity in which the United Nations and American envoys to Yemen have taken part in the transmission of proposals between Muscat and Riyadh on a regular basis. They have been working to ensure a convergence of views about the Saudi initiative, which sources describe as an extension of the US and UN initiatives for a ceasefire and resumption of political consultations.
Saudi Arabia announced a ceasefire initiative last week. The proposal was welcomed by the United Nations and the United States, but the Iran-backed group said it “included nothing new” and the coalition needed first to lifting its air and sea blockade.
Despite the Saudi initiative, the Houthis continued their missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, as well as their ground offensive in the gas-rich Marib province.
The Saudi-led coalition announced Tuesday that it had intercepted and destroyed two drones launched by the Houthi militias towards the kingdom.
Prince Khalid Bin Bandar Bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, wrote in The DailyTelegraph that “Saudi Arabia realises that it cannot at this point walk away from the commitment it has made to the people of Yemen,”
He added, “We need to be realistic about what would happen should we leave unilaterally. The conflict would not end, but it would enter a new and bloody chapter, with an increased civilian death toll, and the humanitarian aid that is currently able to flow into the region would for the most part no longer be able to do so”.
On Friday, Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said the group had attacked facilities belonging to Saudi Aramco oil company in Ras Tanura, Rabigh, Yanbu and Jizan..
The attacks occurred during the most recent visit of the US and UN envoys to the sultanate of Oman and Saudi Arabia.