Oman Replaces Foreign Minister After Conversation With Israeli Counterpart

Iranian foreign minister immediately praises move, which is part of large-scale reorganization of government ministries, while local media refute speculations that disagreement over Israel might be behind it

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Benjamin Netanyahu and outgoing Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, 2019.
Benjamin Netanyahu and outgoing Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, 2019. Credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Oman's sultan appointed a new foreign minister on Wednesday, a day after his de facto predecessor spoke to his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi against the backdrop of the peace deal between Israel and the UAE. 

The newly appointed Badr al-Busaidi took over from Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, who served in the role for 23 years.

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Al-Busaidi was immediately congratulated by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Twitter. "I congratulate the dear brother and friend his excellency Badr al-Busaidi for his appointment as minister of foreign affairs of the brotherly sultanate of Oman," he wrote. 

Local and Arab media have noted that the dismissal took place after the conversation with Ashkenazi, but stopped short of describing it as a critical factor behind the move, noting a number of other issues such as strained relationships with leaders of other Gulf nations. 

Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah served as a minister of state for foreign affairs under the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who held the official position as foreign minister. 

Following the death of Qaboos bin Said in January, his son Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said took over, and on Tuesday he decided appoint foreign and finance ministers for the first time, putting officials in positions long wielded by his late predecessor.

Through the government reshuffle, the sultan overrode Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah's authority over the foreign portfolio, awarding it to veteran memeber and former director general of the foreign ministry Badr al-Busaidi. According to reports in Arab media, al-Busaidi studied economics and diplomacy at Oxford University and that he played a role in negotiations between Iran and the U.S. ahead of the international deal on Tehran's nuclear program. 

Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said also issued 28 decrees renaming and reorganizing ministries in a nation he took over when his father died after 50 years in power.

Previously, Sultan Qaboos held the position of foreign minister, with Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah serving as a minister of state for foreign affairs. He also maintained control of the finance ministry, likely a sign of his desire to hold onto power after deposing his father in a 1970 palace coup.

According to the Omani ministry's Twitter account, on Monday the Israeli and Omani foreign ministers discussed regional developments, and Oman reiterated its commitment to a "comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

They also discussed the necessity of resuming negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, "to fulfill the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital," the tweet said.  

On his own Twitter account, Ashkenazi said that he and bin Alawi also discussed the normalization agreement that Israel has reached with the United Arab Emirates and the need to strengthen ties between the countries. The two agreed at the end of the call to keep in direct and sustained contact and to continue the dialogue between the two states "to promote a normalization process in the Middle East," Ashkenazi added. 

Oman remains a key interlocutor between the West and Iran, as well as Yemen's Houthi rebels, assisting in getting prisoners released in the past. Given the country's role as mediator, experts expect that it will not follow in the UAE's footsteps and normalize ties with Israel.

Sultan Haitham has said he plans to continue the noninterference foreign policy path set by Sultan Qaboos. Oman under the late sultan declined to take part in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, nor did it join four Arab nations in its boycott of Qatar.

Sultan Qaboos did, however, host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a surprise visit in late 2018. Yusuf bin Alawi just Monday called both Israeli and Palestinian officials to reiterate Oman's position that it supports Palestinians' hope to have its own state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Oman also faces financial struggles as global oil prices remain low. Credit-rating agency Moody's in June downgraded Oman and put its outlook as negative, warning the sultanate's efforts at dealing the economic crisis was “slow and fell short of stabilizing government debt levels.” Debt now stands around 60 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.

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