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Oman names new foreign minister, day after rare call with Israel

Sultan Haitham taps Badr al-Busaidi as new top diplomat, also appoints finance minister and restructures ministries in shakeup

Sayyid Badr bin Hamad Al-Busaidi, Foreign Minister of Oman, addresses the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, in New York.  (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Sayyid Badr bin Hamad Al-Busaidi, Foreign Minister of Oman, addresses the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Oman on Tuesday named new foreign and finance ministers in a cabinet shakeup, a day after the top diplomat of the sultanate spoke to his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, amid warming ties between Jerusalem and Muscat.

Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said also issued 28 decrees renaming and reorganizing ministries in a nation he took over in January, following the death of longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who died after 50 years in power.

Previously, the late 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.

In his decree Tuesday, Sultan Haitham named Badr al-Busaidi as the country’s new foreign minister. For finance minister, Sultan Haitham named Sultan bin Salim al-Habsi.

It’s not immediately clear what effect the appointments will have, though Sultan Haitham has been focused on reshaping Oman’s government since taking the throne. That’s even as international events swirl around the sultanate’s borders — such as tensions between Iran and the US, and the neighboring United Arab Emirates beginning to open diplomatic ties to Israel.

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.

Bin Alawi spoke to Israel’s Foreign Minister Ashkenazi Monday, Muscat said, the first contact since Israel normalized ties with the United Arab Emirates last week. He subsequently spoke with a top Palestinian official, Oman added on Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) greets then-Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah at the sidelines of a regional conference on the Middle East in Warsaw, February 13, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

On Tuesday, Channel 12, in an unsourced report, said Saudi Arabian officials have warned the Palestinians against an “overreaction” to Israel’s deal with the UAE, which the PA has strongly condemned. The kingdom told the Palestinians they would be hurting themselves if they took steps against the normalization agreement, the report said.

Saudi Arabia has been silent on the UAE deal, but is believed to support it.

The Israel-UAE deal, announced by US President Donald Trump on Thursday, is only the third such accord Israel has struck with an Arab country, and raises the prospect of similar deals with other pro-Western Gulf states.

Muscat had already expressed its support for the deal, and bin Alawi told Ashkenazi that Oman “clearly reaffirms its position calling for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace” in the Middle East. Bin Alawi also called for a “resumption of the peace process in order to satisfy the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people who aspire to an independent state.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) and then-Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi shaking hands in Ramallah on October 31, 2018. (Wafa)

While Oman and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations, there have been several contacts between the two states, including in 2018, when the late sultan Qaboos received Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Muscat.

Also Monday, bin Alawi spoke with senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub, who expressed his “appreciation of the role of the sultanate and its balanced and wise policy towards Arab issues and, foremost, the Palestinian question,” according to Oman‘s foreign ministry.

The Palestinian Authority has voiced its “strong rejection and condemnation” of the Israeli-Emirati deal.

Oman is among a handful of Middle Eastern states, including Bahrain, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia, that Israel expects could follow the UAE and forge diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

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