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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Omani foreign minister meets Pompeo to discuss Yemen

Yusuf bin Alawi also meets defence secretary and sees members of Congress

The US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis with Oman's Foreign Affairs Minister Yusuf bin Alawi at the Pentagon on July 27, 2018. AP Photo
The US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis with Oman's Foreign Affairs Minister Yusuf bin Alawi at the Pentagon on July 27, 2018. AP Photo

The conflict in Yemen emerged as the main focus of discussion between Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi and United States officials during his week-long visit to Washington.

Mr Alawi met Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday after talks with US Defence Secretary James Mattis, members of Congress including House Speaker Paul Ryan, and national security and treasury officials.

The State Department said that Mr Pompeo and Mr Alawi discussed Yemen, where they "affirmed the importance of continued support for the efforts of UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and emphasised the need for all parties to show restraint to avoid further escalation of hostilities."

"They discussed the ways in which US and Gulf interests coincide and agreed upon the importance of promoting regional stability and co-operation" the statement read.

Yemen's three-year-old civil war and peace efforts led by Mr Griffiths have been a major topic of discussion. The UN special envoy has been leading shuttle diplomacy between Muscat, Sanaa and Washington to resolve a stand off over the rebel-held port city of Hodeidah.

Gerald Feierstein, a former US ambassador and director for Gulf Affairs at the Middle East Institute, said Mr Alawi’s discussions have focused on "Yemen and the effort to resume co-operation within the Gulf Co-operation Council".

“Oman has historically played a mediating role on both issues and their continued engagement with the US can help advance talks now,” Mr Feierstein told The National.

The US-Iran stand off was also expected to be on the table, before the resumption of US banking sanctions next week. Muscat, after boosting trade ties with Tehran in the past three years, is now trying to readjust its investment portfolio to avoid backlash from US sanctions.

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“The Omanis are not happy about the US decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal but they’re unlikely to openly challenge the resumption of sanctions,” said Mr Feierstein. Oman has played a back-channel role between Washington and Tehran in the past, but there is no indication of such an effort now as the US focus remains on increasing pressure on the Iranian government.

Instead, Yemen is emerging as the focal point of the visit. Following their meeting at the Pentagon, spokeswoman Dana White said Mr Alawi and Mr Mattis “discussed a broad range of regional security issues, including the conflict in Yemen, freedom of navigation and multilateral counter-terrorism co-operation”.

Fatima Al Asrar, a senior analyst at the Arabia Foundation who follows Yemen, told The National that “while Oman is playing a neutral part in the [Yemen] conflict, it should do more to ensure that it's able to secure its borders from smuggling activity along the Omani-Yemeni border, which benefits the Houthi militia.”

Mr Mattis had raised the issue during his visit to Oman in March.

Ms Al Asrar said that increasing border security and anti-smuggling efforts would grant Oman “a far greater role in Yemen's peace process”.