Iran intensifies diplomatic efforts to achieve peace in the region

June 16, 2021 - 22:2

TEHRAN – In the latest sign that Iran is serious about achieving peace in the region, a senior Iranian diplomat journeyed to Oman shortly after the top Saudi diplomat visited the sultanate.

Ali Asghar Khaji, who serves as the Iranian foreign minister's senior advisor in special political affairs, visited Muscat on Tuesday and met with Omani Foreign Minister Badr Al Busaidi in what appeared to be part of a renewed diplomacy between Iran and Saudi Arabia because a few days earlier Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan had paid a short visit to Oman, a move that has been widely linked to the current thaw in Tehran-Riyadh relations.

In the Tuesday meeting, Khaji and Al Busaidi discussed the latest developments in bilateral relations, the Yemen developments, and regional issues, according to a statement put out by the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

“The Iranian official elaborated on Tehran's latest efforts to resolve humanitarian issues and stop the war in the country, and welcomed Oman's move to dispatch a delegation to Sana'a and its efforts to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the crisis in cooperation with the UN. The Omani foreign minister, in turn, described his country's efforts on the Yemen crisis as a step to stop the current humanitarian disaster in Yemen and contribute to the region's stability. He also stressed Iran's effective role in regional developments,” the statement said.

During his trip to Muscat, Khaji also met Sheikh Khalifa Al-Harthy, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Oman for Political Affairs. During this meeting, the two sides discussed “in detail” the latest developments in Yemen, according to the Iranian Foreign Ministry statement.

Oman’s state media reported that Saud bin Ahmed al Barwani, head of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Department at the Omani Foreign Ministry, also attended the meeting between Khaji and Al Busaidi, indicating that the issues discussed in the meeting might have something to do with Saudi Arabia.

Before the meeting, some regional media outlets close to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were abuzz with speculations over a renewed Omani role in brokering de-escalation between Tehran and Riyadh.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have held several rounds of talks in Baghdad over the past few weeks. The talks were held behind closed doors and attended by security officials. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia directly or indirectly confirmed that these talks have taken place. Yemen was one of the most important issues that were discussed during the Baghdad talks, with Saudi Arabia, according to multiple press reports, demanding that Iran encourage its allies in the Sanaa-based government into putting an end to their retaliatory strikes against Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has been entangled in one of its worst wars against Yemen since 2015 when it started an air raid campaign against its fellow Arab country with the alleged aim of eradicating the Iranian influence there. After years of bombardment, Saudi Arabia not only failed to oust the Ansarallah-led government, but it also was unable to prevent the Yemenis from mounting retaliatory attacks inside its territory. Facing a well-organized popular resistance in Yemen, the Saudis blamed their failure on Iran, accusing it of providing weaponry to its Yemeni allies.

Iran has long denied any military involvement in the Yemen war and expressed its readiness to facilitate a political solution to the crisis. The Saudis began listening to the Iranian calls only most recently, giving the green light to their security officials to meet their Iranian counterparts in the Iraqi capital.

In parallel with the Baghdad talks, Iran intensified its efforts to bring peace to Yemen. Before heading to Oman, Khaji met with the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths to discuss the latest developments in Yemen.

In the meeting, the two sides conferred on the latest political and on-the-ground situation of Yemen, especially the recent visit of Griffiths to Sana'a, the developments in Ma'rib province, the need for the removal of economic siege against the Yemeni people, and the ways to establish peace and stability in the country.

Griffiths and Khaji also conferred on the elimination of the possible risk of oil spill from the FSO Safer oil tanker.

Khaji presented Iran's initiative to eliminate the oil spill and environmental pollution risk, and said Tehran is still ready to help establish peace in Yemen.

The UN envoy, in turn, presented a report on his visits to the region, and elaborated on the UN's efforts to settle the Yemen crisis.

Earlier, Griffiths also met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a visit to Tehran. He held talks with Zarif on various aspects of the Yemen crisis and the ways to achieve peace and stability in the country.

During his meeting with the UN envoy, Zarif elaborated on Iran's viewpoint on ending the Yemen crisis, the developments following the beginning of crisis in the country, and underlined the need to remove the blockade against the country and facilitating delivery of humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people, according to a statement issued by the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

Zarif expounded on Iran's principled policy that war is not a solution to the Yemen crisis, and said the current disastrous situation in Yemen - which has put the Yemeni people on the verge of a humanitarian disaster after six years - can only be wound up through political talks and peaceful ways.

Griffiths paid a visit to Iran after failing to make headway on the Yemen peace talks. He said in late May that he was frustrated over the lack of progress in the Yemen peace talks.

“Nobody can be more frustrated than I am,” Griffiths said. “We have spent a year and a half on things which are relatively simple to describe, the cease-fire, the opening of Sanaa airport, the opening of Hodeida ports, the much-delayed start of the political negotiations.”

Griffiths has recently complained that the two sides of the Yemen conflict have failed to reach an agreement on ending the war.

Nearly a week later, the U.S. special envoy for Yemen also echoed similar frustration while blaming his failure on the Ansarallah movement. Tim Lenderking accused Ansarallah of refusing to engage meaningfully in the diplomatic efforts to “resolve a nearly seven-year conflict that has brought unimaginable suffering to the Yemeni people.” Lenderking added that the movement bears the major responsibility for not engaging in bringing about a cease-fire.

While the U.S. and UN Yemen envoys expressed dismay at lack of progress in their efforts, Oman quietly stepped in to calm the situation, and it even made remarkable progress in this regard.

In early June, a high-ranking Omani delegation from the Royal Office paid a rare visit to Sanaa and effectively broke the siege on the Sanaa airport. Mohammad Abdul Salam, the spokesman for Yemen’s Ansarallah movement, who accompanied the Omani delegation and has been barred from returning to Yemen, said it would discuss ways to push forward the Yemen peace process.

Abdul Salam, along with other Ansarallah figures, has been living outside Yemen since 2016 and was unable to return home due to a Saudi siege over the Sanaa airport. But Abdul Salam and his Yemeni comrades accompanied the Omani delegation, effectively breaking a Saudi travel ban on Yemen. The return of Abdul Salam, which would have required a Saudi green light, indicated tangible progress in the Yemen peace talks led by Oman.

The Saudi foreign minister’s recent visit to Oman and the following visit by Khaji to the sultanate were the latest indications that Oman has returned to its previous status of mediating between the region’s major stakeholders.

In addition to the Yemen crisis, Oman seems to the mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia to mend their ties. On Tuesday, the London-based Al Arab, a newspaper believed to be owned by the United Arab Emirates, reported that the venue for the Saudi-Iranian dialogue has been moved from Baghdad to Muscat.

Citing Omani political sources, the newspaper said 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.

If true, replacing Muscat with Baghdad as the venue for Iranian-Saudi talks would suggest the seriousness of the talks as Oman enjoys good relations with Tehran, Riyadh, and Sanaa. This enables Oman to draw on its contacts with all the stakeholders to push forward the Yemen peace process. The movement of the talks’ venue also suggests that the Saudis came to the conclusion that Iran is really serious about the de-escalation of tensions in the region. Of course, Iran has repeatedly said that it is ready to open a new chapter with Saudi Arabia but the Saudis chose to ignore Iranian calls on multiple occasions. In fact, Iran even voiced readiness to meet with the Saudis to assuage their concerns and dispel their misconceptions about the Iranian influence in the region.

Now with Oman taking a center stage in the momentum of peace in the region, the Saudis seem to be acknowledging Iran’s seriousness in pursuit of peace and prosperity in the region.


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