Oman’s Sultan paid his first official overseas visit to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, with discussions anticipated to center on the Yemen war and economic and business cooperation as Muscat seeks to shore up its finances.
Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said landed in Neom, on the Red Sea, on a two-day visit. His kingdom has joined UN-led efforts to reach a peace agreement in Yemen.
Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman greeted him, according to Saudi-owned media; in what was the 85-year-old monarch’s first face-to-face encounter since the coronavirus outbreak began.
Demonstrations against unemployment in the debt-ridden kingdom, which is undertaking wide-ranging reforms and austerity measures, presented the Sultan with his largest challenge yet. Saudi Arabia and Oman signed a pact establishing a joint coordination committee to supervise key agreements during the visit.
Badr al-Busaidi, Oman’s foreign minister, told the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat daily on Saturday that the delayed completion of a new road connecting the two Gulf States would help logistics and other infrastructure projects.
Oman’s debt-to-GDP ratio has risen from approximately 15% in 2015 to 80% last year, despite poor progress on promises to diversify revenue away from oil and reduce expenditure on its bloated public sector since the 2014 oil price drop. Because of its impartial foreign policy, Oman has traditionally served as a mediator in efforts to mediate regional crises despite being one of the poorest financially among Gulf oil producers.
The sultanate, which shares borders with Yemen, has stepped up diplomatic efforts to secure a truce between Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-led coalition fighting them for almost six years.
In March 2015, the coalition intervened in Yemen after the Houthis overthrew the internationally recognized government in Sanaa. Tens of thousands of Yemenis have died as a result of the conflict, which has brought the country dangerously close to famine.