UN Chief Lauds Oman for Discreet Role in Peace Talks
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 30 2016 (IPS) – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has singled out Oman as perhaps the only Arab country in the Gulf playing a discreet role – mostly behind-the- scenes – in helping resolve some of the military and political conflicts in the war-ravaged region.
The conflicts include the devastating war in Yemen, the long drawn out confrontation between Iran and the big powers on a controversial nuclear agreement with Tehran, and the eight year- long Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
The Secretary-General’s sentiments have been reinforced in a new book titled “Oman Reborn” by Linda Pappas Funsch, Professor of Middle East Studies at Frederick Community College, Maryland, who points out that “the Sultanate of Oman is arguably one of the few ‘good news’ stories to emerge from the Middle East in the contemporary era.”
Described as one of the oldest independent countries in the Arab and Muslim world, Oman differs from many of its neighbours in the Middle East, Funsch says.
Largely ignored by a mainstream media that “gravitates toward sensation and scandal, Oman remains a hidden gem…”
When he visited Oman last month, the Secretary-General specifically acknowledged Oman’s role in hosting discreet talks between U.S. and Iranian officials, which eventually helped set the stage for the landmark nuclear agreement involving Iran and P5+1 – namely the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the US, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany.
As the United Nations moves towards mediating peace negotiations between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in Kuwait on April 18— preceded by a cease-fire on April 10 — the Secretary-General said Oman has been a critical partner “as we try to bring peace to Yemen.”
Ban said he is particularly appreciative of Oman’s support for UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, including enabling him to meet representatives of the parties to the Yemen conflict in the Omani capital of Muscat, ahead of peace talks in Switzerland late last year.
Meanwhile, Oman has helped secure the release of foreign nationals held in captivity in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, and has opened its doors to hundreds of Yemenis needing medical assistance and temporary accommodation.
The Sultanate has also re-settled 20 detainees – all Yemenis – who were transferred from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre to Oman.
Oman’s role as a mediator, Ban said, also goes back to the cease-fire negotiations which the Sultanate hosted during the 1980s to help end the conflict between Iran and Iraq (1980-1988).
Paying a tribute to the leadership of Sultan Qaboos bin Said who has been in power for over 26 years as the longest reigning leader in the Middle East, Funsch says Oman neither adopts modernization and Westernization wholesale nor rejects their components outright.
The nine member Saudi coalition, accused of indiscriminate civilian killings in Yemen, includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan—but not Oman, which has scrupulously kept out of the ongoing conflict.
In her book, Funsch says Oman has maintained a venerable tradition of friendship and longstanding cooperation both with Western friends, including UK and the US, with which it shares strong bilateral ties dating back more than two centuries, and with Eastern friends such as Iran, whose history is inextricably linked to Oman’s own.
“Oman is distinguished from many of its regional neighbours in its steadfast embrace of a measured and independent foreign policy, designed to preserve its sovereignty and avoid interference in the internal affairs of other countries while simultaneously pursuing peaceful coexistence with all nations.”
This strategy, says Funsch, effectively permits the country’s leadership to pursue a path of “quiet diplomacy”, engaging with various parties, when requested, in an attempt to serve as interlocutor and mediator in the cause of defusing regional and international tensions.
The present Sultan took over the leadership from his father in 1970. “This affair may have gone down as a bloodless coup but for the fact that one palace insider who attempted to oppose the (former) Sultan’s removal was killed in the melee that followed.”
Meanwhile, according to Ban, Oman is currently helping the United Nations to digitize the world body’s audiovisual archives dating back to the founding of the Organisation 70 years ago.
They will now be preserved for all time, thanks to Oman, the Secretary-General said.
“All Member States stand to benefit from gaining access to these online archives from anywhere in the world.”
Oman’s reputation as a strong presence on the world stage, he declared, can only be enhanced by this generous act. “And Omanis will gain archiving skills that will help you to safeguard your own precious cultural heritage,” Ban said.
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