Oman thaws ties with Syria after Assad’s acceptance of invitation

Oman ends its decade-long freeze of diplomatic ties with Syrian president after he accepted invitation to visit

Oman, one of the few remaining members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to maintain a diplomatic freeze with Syria, has opened its doors to Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, after he accepted an invitation to visit, with much of its support for Bashar al-Assad in the seven-year-old conflict flowing from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

It was the highest-profile visit to Syria by an emirate or a foreign minister since the war began in 2011. It was also the first time that a member of the GCC had made such a visit since the four-state bloc was formed, in 1981.

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Majid bin Saeed al-Mansouri, the foreign minister, visited Assad in Damascus on Sunday and stressed that his nation’s sovereignty was a red line.

His visit came after Oman severed diplomatic ties with Assad in February 2011, a few months after street protests swept through the capital and spread across the country.

The announcement was made by Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who is currently in Europe after visiting the UK, and opened by the British ambassador to Muscat, David Louss.

Several senior officials from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain have visited the regime in recent years, taking advantage of the camp’s decade-long freeze in ties. The UAE, which is part of the GCC, has maintained close ties with Qatar.

Assad has recently moved away from the failed Saudi-backed political process that has seen mediation attempts, instead focusing on strengthening his role in the military and the state.

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“Oman’s decision to resumption dialogue with Syria is a sign of the change in tactics and role the country has played in facilitating the political process,” said Alexander Iskandarovich, an expert on Gulf politics at the Carnegie Moscow Centre.

“The UAE is also not only an amenable partner to the Assad regime, but an advocate of a foreign policy that offers a softer face to Iran, and, most importantly, is a firm supporter of the west’s policy to isolate Tehran,” Iskandarovich said.

Omani officials have said the invitation to Assad has not yet been delivered, but Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are battling the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war, said they had received the invitation.

Dima El-Jare reports from Oman, the only country in the Gulf Cooperation Council that has maintained a diplomatic freeze with Syria since the start of the Syrian conflict.

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