Iran’s Gulf Ally Said to Signal Rapprochement With Saudis

  • Oman said to speak to Saudi Arabia about anti-terror alliance
  • Saudi deputy crown prince said to plan a trip to Oman

Mohammed bin Salman

Photographer: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images

Oman told Saudi Arabia it will join a Saudi-led military alliance, the kingdom’s official news agency reported, a sign that Iran’s closest ally in the region is ready to improve its ties with the kingdom.

Oman’s defense minister sent a letter to Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announcing the decision to join the Islamic Military Alliance Against Terrorism, the Saudi Press Agency said. The prince will go to Oman in the coming weeks to pave the way for a visit by King Salman, according to a person familiar with the matter. The king’s trip would help re-establish security, military and economic cooperation, the person said on condition of anonymity.

Oman’s ties with Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council have been strained because of its close relationship with Iran, the kingdom’s biggest regional rival.

A rapprochement could help boost cooperation between Oman, one of the region’s smallest oil producers, and the bloc’s richest members. The GCC is a six-member group that also includes Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

‘Saudi Win’

Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite-led Iran are on the opposite sides of Middle East conflicts from Syria to Yemen. The kingdom suspended ties with Iran last year after its embassy in Tehran was attacked in a protest over the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric. Other Gulf countries, except Oman, also took diplomatic steps against the Islamic Republic.

“From a political standpoint it’s a Saudi win bringing in Oman back to the GCC fold,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of London-based consulting firm Cornerstone Global Associates. “It will give Saudi greater regional influence and greater geopolitical leverage.”

Oman’s Foreign Minister Yousef Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, in an interview with Egypt’s Al-Akhbar newspaper published this week, said his country “has common interests with everybody, but each country has its own ways of achieving these interests and goals.”

The Saudi-led military alliance is a reference to an anti-terror coalition formed last year at the initiative of Prince Mohammed, King Salman’s son, to face security threats against Muslim nations.

The prince is also the Saudi defense minister. Shortly after his father ascended to the throne in 2015, the kingdom launched a war to support an internationally-recognized government in neighboring Yemen against Shiite rebels. Oman didn’t join the campaign.

Saudi officials have accused Iran of backing the Houthis and said military action was necessary to stop the Shiite-ruled Islamic Republic from expanding its influence in the Arabian Peninsula.

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