Taliban Not Sending Delegation to Muscat for New Afghan Peace Talks


Kabul, Peshawar – At least eight Taliban militants have been killed in a US air strike in eastern Afghanistan, an Afghan news agency reported.

The air strike came as Reuters said that representatives of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States will meet in the Sultanate of Oman next week to discuss reviving peace talks with the Taliban.

But an Afghan official and a Pakistani foreign ministry source said it was not clear if Afghan Taliban representatives would join the talks. Taliban sources said they had not yet received an invitation and plan to skip Monday’s discussions in Muscat, casting doubt on efforts to revive long-stalled negotiations.

According to Reuters, the four-nation Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QGC), comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States, has been trying to ease the path to direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with little success.

Amin Waqad, a close aide to Agfhan President Ashraf Ghani and a senior member of the High Peace Council (HPC), said, “HPC and government representatives will participate, and it is an important one because the Taliban representatives will be there. We will go with a clear plan.”

A senior Pakistani foreign ministry official confirmed the talks would take place on Oct 16. Last week, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told Voice of America the “quadrilateral arrangement will again be in operation” in Muscat in October.

The US embassy in Islamabad did not comment for the report.

Talks and efforts to kick start negotiations have failed following the 2015 announcement of the death of the Taliban’s founder and long-time leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, in 2013.

Two senior Afghan Taliban leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the group’s leadership council met on Tuesday and decided it would not send a delegation to Muscat even if the group was invited to participate.

Meanwhile, at least eight Taliban members were killed in an air strike carried out by the United States for the first time in Badakhshan Province, years after the US military had suspended its operations in the region, Khaama Press reported.

Locals said the air strike targeted the province on Tuesday night.

Zarif in Oman to Discuss Critical Topics


London- Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held discreet talks with his Omani counterpart Yusuf bin Alawi upon his arrival to Muscat before meeting Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said. During the meeting with Sultan Qaboos, they discussed regional topics including events in Yemen, Syria, and developments in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This is the first visit of an Iranian official after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visit mid of February.

According to Iranian media, the delegation headed by Zarif stopped in Muscat before heading to Doha on Monday to discuss bilateral ties and regional developments.

During his meeting with Qaboos, Zarif described Tehran-Muscat ties as special as he pointed out the similar stances towards regional dialogue and political topics not to mention bilateral economic, energy and navigation ties.

The purpose of the short visit to Oman and Qatar is to discuss regional topics and tense conditions, according to Zarif.

In this context, Zarif added that Omanis and Iranians share the point of view towards the referendum of Iraqi Kurdistan and that “no state supports the referendum on the international level.”

He reiterated Tehran’s insistence on protecting the unity of Iraq in accordance with the Iraqi constitution.

As for the nuclear deal, the Iranian FM renewed his country’s stance that rejects renegotiating the nuclear program and affirmed that Iran wouldn’t be the one to breach the deal first.

Iran’s Ambassador to Oman Mohammad Reza Nouri stated that Iran is discussing facilities for Iranians’ entrance to Oman, revealing the progress achieved in economic cooperation during the past months and expressing hope that banking relations witness more advancement between Oman and Iran.

Iran Offers Nuclear Deal Compromise with US via Oman


London – Iran has asked Oman to transmit to Washington a set of new proposals designed to prevent a showdown with the Trump administration over the controversial nuclear deal reached with six major powers, sources in Tehran confirmed yesterday.

Known as the Comprehensive Plan for Joint Action (CJPOA), the deal envisages the temporary lifting of some sanctions against Iran in exchange a freezing of aspects of the Iranian nuclear program.

The Iranian demand was put to the Omanis by Islamic Republic Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, during a “working visit” to Oman for talks with his Omani counterpart Youssef bin Alawi bin Abdullah.

President Donald Trump claims that Iran has violated the spirit of the deal and is reportedly planning to refer the whole issue back to the US Congress, effectively ending the periodic suspension of sanctions against Iran. Trump has three objections to the deal, all of which are expected to be addressed in the compromise formula Zarif has taken to Muscat.

The first of these is that the CJPOA includes “sunset clauses” that envisage the ending of all sanctions on Iran in periods of between 10 to 30 years. In the new Iranian formula, a mechanism will be agreed to end the “sunset” concept and link the full lifting of sanctions to certified performance by Iran.

Trump’s second objections is that Tehran has refused to ratify the Additional Protocols to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), thus keeping all options open for a full resumption of the military aspects of its nuclear project. What Zarif is offering now is to fast-track the arousal of the additional protocols through the Islamic Majlis, the Iranian parliament, before March 2018 when Iran and the 5+1 foreign ministers are due to hold a “revision conference” to assess mutual performance.

The third American objection is that Iran has tried to exclude its missile development project from the deal, thus ignoring resolutions passed by the United Nations’ Security Council. The compromise formula now suggested by Iran would provide for arbitration on the issue, allowing Iran to continue its project but offering guarantees that missiles thus developed would not be designed to carry nuclear warheads.

Before flying to Muscat, Zarif said that if the US wants “stringent inspection” of Iranian nuclear sites to continue, it must continue to abide by the terms of the CJPOA. The Islamic foreign minister also said the US “could be sure Iran would ratify the Additional Protocols.”

As an additional “sweetener,” Zarif renewed Iran’s offer of cooperation in the fight against ISIS and suggested that Iran’s regional policies be separated from the nuclear issue.

In a separate interview, Zarif said that despite Iran’s flexibility, chances of the US remaining committed to the CJPOA was “50-50”, adding that Tehran already had contingency plans to deal with any outcome.

Trump must notify the US Congress by October 15, leaving a narrow window of opportunity for any mediation by the Omanis.

Zarif, who will also visit Qatar after Oman, is using his mini-tour to put other “possibilities”, related to relations with neighboring countries, on the table.

Iran and Oman have already signed a security accord and demarcated their continental shelf in the Gulf of Oman. Oman has also offered “mooring rights” to the Iranian Navy, enabling it to expand its active presence right down to the Gulf of Hauf and the Gulf of Aden. Tehran now wants the accord “deepened” to include joint operations against terrorist threats, piracy and human-trafficking in the region. The establishment of a daily direct shipping line between the Iranian port of Chahbahar and the Omani capital Muscat is expected to facilitate security and trade cooperation.

According to sources in Tehran, in Qatar Zarif is expected to propose the creation of “joint organs” in a number of domains including environmental protection, and combating drug trafficking and smuggling in general. Iran and Qatar already have a security cooperation accord that could be expanded to cover other areas of mutual interest and, later, also joined by Oman. One area of concern is the rapid depletion of fishing resources in the Gulf where many foreign nations, notably China, are “plundering” fish resources with no regard for regeneration of stocks. Iranian fishermen have been engaged in a series of protests and strikes, calling on Tehran to curb unrestricted Chinese fishing activities. Tehran claims that effective action would not be possible without the cooperation of other littoral states; Oman and Qatar are expected to be the first to agree to joint action with Iran.

Both Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani have gone out of their way in recent weeks to describe an easing of tension with Gulf neighbors as a “top priority”. As always with the Islamic Republic, however, it is not clear whether their stance is endorsed by the “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on all issues or, whether as often in the past, they are asked just to buy time.

One calculation in Tehran may be based on the assumption that if they manage to keep the US committed to the CJPOA until next March, the Trump administration would then find itself too involved in the mid-term US elections to open a new front in foreign policy. Tehran also hopes that the Democrats, still committed to President Barack Obama’s legacy, would regain control of the US Senate, making it harder for Trump to pick up a fight with Tehran.

Iranian FM to Visit Muscat, Doha

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif holds a press conference on September 1, 2015, at the residence of the Iranian ambassador in the Tunisian capital Tunis.

London- Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is to meet his Omani counterpart Yusuf bin Alawi in Muscat on Monday before heading to Qatar, at a time when Tehran is facing US accusations regarding its regional attitude.

Zarif will hold discussions with Alawi on regional developments such as in Iraq, Syria and Yemen in addition to Gulf topics. After Muscat, Zarif is expected to head to Doha. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi stated that Zarif will also meet high-rank officials in the two countries.

His visit comes one week after Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani accused the boycott countries of offering Iran a gift, saying that their procedures are pushing Doha towards Tehran.

As for the nuclear deal, its future is still uncertain. AFP quoted the Qatari minister as saying that the region is in need of a country that has nuclear weapons. “The agreement is good but we need a better solution,” he added.

This is the first foreign visit to Zarif after his return from New York.

Furthermore, foreign ministers of Iran and Oman will discuss possible ways of cooperation in fields of energy and gas transportation to Oman and India. FM of Iran, Oman and India met one week ago on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York where they discussed cooperation in the energy field.

Bin Alawi visited Tehran mid of July and held talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the foreign minister, following Rouhani’s visit to Oman and Kuwait earlier in an attempt to reform ties with Gulf states.

Oman Expels Indian Preacher for Offending Saudi Arabia

Flag of Oman

Dammam- Oman expelled Indian preacher Sulaiman al-Nadawi after he delivered a provocative speech against the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses its condemnation of the speech delivered by Sulaiman bin Taher al-Husseini al-Nadawi, an Indian national, before the College of Shari’ah Sciences,” the Ministry said in a statement.

“The speech was delivered on Tuesday, September 19, and it came out of the context of the lecture and inconsistent with the principles, approaches, and policies of the Sultanate,” the Ministry said.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs affirms that the competent authorities in the Sultanate of Oman have taken action on the matter and asked him to leave the country,” added the Foreign Ministry.

Husseini verbally attacked some Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia, wondering how the Kingdom can ally with the United States and with US President Donald Trump.

He doubted Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates’ right to oppose Qatar, adding that anti-Qatar comes only because it harbors and welcomes Hamas, Qaradawi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

On his official Twitter account, Saudi Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Abdullah al-Moalimi immediately thanked Oman for “the decisive action it has taken towards those who have insulted the Kingdom.”

Yemen Envoy Ould Cheikh Resumes Talks after Getting Term Extension


Cairo, London and New York – United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed will commence a new round of consultations in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman aimed at finding the basis for resuming negotiations between the Yemeni government and Houthi and Saleh insurgents to reach a comprehensive settlement for the crisis, diplomatic sources affirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat.

Another Arab diplomat meanwhile revealed that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres extended the term of Ould Cheikh for six months.

Ould Cheikh will start his round of talks once he returns from New York where he was participating in the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly.

Sources stressed that talks will kick off from outcomes of the national dialogue, Gulf initiative, the related UN Security Council resolutions and Arab Summits on Yemen.

Talks will also tackle the suggested date to start negotiations between the crisis parties in Yemen. It has been proposed to hold the talks in October in either Kuwait or Oman, said the sources.

Ould Cheikh reiterated, as reported by Sky News Arabia, that the humanitarian situation in Yemen has become catastrophic, holding all parties are responsible for it. He added that although the crisis is humanitarian, its resolution is political.

Kuwait Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al Sabah said during his speech at the General Assembly that his country has exerted relentless efforts to settle the conflict in Yemen peacefully.

Moreover, Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit met Ould Cheikh on the sidelines of the General Assembly to discuss the latter’s contacts with international, regional and Yemeni parties related to the crisis.

20 Sailors Saved as Cargo Ship Sinks Off Oman Coast


Twenty sailors were saved on Sunday after their cargo ship sank off the coast of Oman.

Authorities in Oman said that the ship was loaded with construction material, consisting of steel bars and sand.

Police and Oman’s Transportation and Communications Ministry said that the boat sank off the coast of Lakabi, a town some 620 kilometers (385 miles) southwest of the sultanate’s capital, Muscat.

The ministry in a statement carried by the state-run Oman News Agency said seawater poured into the ship through a leak, sinking it.

A nearby fisherman saved the sailors.

The ministry said the Tanzanian-flagged ship was heading from the United Arab Emirates to Eritrea in East Africa.

The Royal Oman Police on Sunday posted pictures online of sailors on a boat after being rescued by the local fishermen, their sinking ship slipping beneath the waves of the Arabian Sea.

The concerned naval authorities, police and coast guard are keen on preserving marine security and the Sultanate’s environment and marine wealth, said the Oman News Agency.

International Community Supports Gulf Solution to ‘Qatari Role’ Crisis

Washington, Paris, Ankara- World leaders on Thursday stressed the need to adopt a “Gulf solution” to the crisis of the “Qatari role” in the region.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson affirmed during a phone call with Omani Foreign Minister Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah on the importance of supporting the efforts of Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber al-Sabah and his good offices to contain the Qatari crisis.

A statement issued by the Omani Foreign Minister said the Sultanate looks forward that all parties would substantiate such efforts.

“The Foreign Minister affirmed that the US role is important and there is a need to find solutions to settle such differences,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May urged Qatar to do more in facing extremism and terrorism.  In this regard, May also stressed the need to take steps to de-escalate tension that led major powers and Arab countries to cut ties with Doha.

In Paris, French sources confirmed that the authorities supported a Kuwaiti mediation based on the principle that “Gulf States are able to solve their own problems.”

The sources noted that this message was reiterated by French officials to all parties.

In Kuwait, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country was ready to play a mediation role to resolve the diplomatic row in the Gulf. 

“Turkey stands at the same distance from Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” the foreign minister said, one day after he visited Qatar.

Also, Cavusoglu said he was going to visit the Saudi Kingdom on Friday, and share Turkey’s “sincere views” on the crisis. “Turkey is working to avoid an escalation of the Qatari crisis,” he said.

Qatar Launches 2 Shipping Routes with Oman


Dubai – CEO at Qatar Ports Management Company Abdullah al-Khanji said that Qatar has launched two new shipping services to Omani ports after four other Gulf states cut diplomatic ties with Doha last week.

The two new services will each run three times a week between Qatar’s Hamad Port and Omani ports of Sohar in the north and Salalah in the south, Qatar Ports Management Company (Mwani) announced on Sunday.

Khanji said that the first container ship loaded down with cargo arrived at Doha’s Hamad Port from Oman’s port of Sohar on Saturday, noting that these two routes will contribute in enhancing the import of food commodities.

He added that many Omani private sector companies have expressed their willingness to provide logistic support to Qatari food-importing companies.

Khanji pointed to the activation of the movement on the direct shipping route between Hamad port and China’s economic capital (Shanghai) within “New Falcon” service, which is affiliated to the Mediterranean Shipping Company «MSC», and the direct route of «Ocean Alliance». The trip lasts between 14 to 20 days, contributing to the enhancement of import movement.

In light of the current situation, Qatar’s ports give food commodities and their inputs the highest priority, while facilitating the procedures for the rapid release of goods, Khanji explained.

He added that cargo for Qatar usually stops at Dubai’s massive deep-water Jebel Ali port or in the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi, then gets put on smaller boats heading to Doha.

However, since June 5, the UAE joined Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt in cutting off sea traffic to Qatar as part of the severing of diplomatic ties over Qatar’s support of extremist groups and close ties to Iran.

Khanji said that Qatar’s cargo will go through Sohar, as well as Oman’s port at Salalah, bypassing the need to dock in any of those countries.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Receives King of Jordan

Riyadh – Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz received at al-Salam palace in Jeddah on Tuesday King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

At the outset of the meeting, King Salman welcomed King Abdullah who, in turn, expressed happiness to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and meet with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

During the visit, both leaders discussed Jordanian-Saudi ties, current developments in the region, and the high level of historic and brotherly relations between the two countries.

The two leaders expressed keenness to further boost relations in all fields to serve Arab and Islamic causes. They also reviewed the Middle East crises, efforts to reach political solutions, and means to enable region’s peoples to live in peace and security.

Then, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques held a dinner banquet in honor of Jordan’s King and the accompanying delegation, according to Saudi Press Agency.

The reception and the banquet were attended by Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and Governor of Makkah Region Prince Khalid al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Prince Mansour bin Saud bin Abdulaziz; Prince Talal bin Saud bin Abdulaziz; minister of state and member of the Cabinet and Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Prince Mansour bin Miteb bin Abdulaziz, Undersecretary of the Ministry of National Guard for the Western Sector Prince Khalid bin Faisal bin Turki, Prince Sattam bin Saud bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Jeddah Province Prince Mishaal bin Majed bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Prince Abdulaziz bin Sattam bin Abdulaziz, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Counselor at the ministry of foreign affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah, Advisor to the ministry of interior Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif bin Abdulaziz, Prince Nawaf bin Naif bin Abdulaziz; Deputy Governor of Makkah Region Prince Abdullah bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, and Prince Rakan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.

The events were also attended by King of Jordan’s official accompanying delegation: Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki, head of the Royal Diwan Fayiz al-Tarawna, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Jordanian Armed Forces Lt-Gen Mahmoud A. Fraihat, Director of General Intelligence Department Major General Adnan Issam al-Jundi, National Policies Council Rapporteur Abdullah Wreika, and a number of officials.

On Wednesday, King Salman received a phone call from Fahd bin Mahmoud al-Sayid, Deputy Prime Minister for Cabinet Affairs of the Sultanate of Oman, who congratulated the monarch on the holy month of Ramadan.

The King exchanged with him the congratulations on this occasion and expressed appreciation to the Omani senior official for his noble feelings, stated SPA.