DOHA (AFP) – Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held talks with her Omani counterpart in Qatar Monday in what Israel hailed as the first such public meeting, but Oman’s chief diplomat ruled out an immediate reopening of Israel’s trade office in Muscat.
Livni also met Qatar’s emir and prime minister, an aide said.
Oman’s minister for foreign affairs Yusef bin Alawi bin Abdullah told AFP he did not agree with Israeli views on the peace process and there was no question of reopening the Israeli office until agreement is reached on a Palestinian state.
Livni, who is paying a rare visit to a Gulf Arab state, gave bin Alawi “an update on the negotiations with the Palestinians” during the meeting in the Qatari capital Doha, another aide told AFP.
The aide, who did not want to be named, said “the second objective of the meeting was to discuss the role of the Arab world in the peace process.”
“We do not agree with their (Israelis’) opinions” on the peace negotiations, bin Alawi told AFP.
He said the meeting was “not meant to have a result,” but merely to enable him to hear what she has to say and the other way round.
Bin Alawi ruled out an unconditional reopening of Israel’s trade office in Muscat, closed nearly eight years ago.
“There is no room for opening it until agreement is reached on the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said.
Livni arrived in Doha on Sunday to attend a democracy forum, which she was due to address later on Monday.
The Israeli foreign ministry said in Jerusalem that Livni’s meeting with Oman’s top diplomat was their first public encounter.
In September 2006, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported that she held a secret meeting with bin Alawi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Oman became the first Gulf Arab country to open a trade office in Tel Aviv, in 1996, but it recalled its representative five months later, making his return conditional on real progress in Middle East peace talks.
It shut down the office, as well as Israel’s own trade office in Muscat, in October 2000 following the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada.
Livni also met Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on Monday as well as the prime minister of the gas-rich state, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, according to an aide.
Hamad bin Jassem, who doubles as foreign minister, had told AFP on Sunday that talks with Livni would focus on ways of calming the situation in the Gaza Strip.
“This, of course, will be our main preoccupation and the main issue we will discuss with Livni,” he said.
“But I don’t want to put this in the context of a mediation,” Sheikh Hamad said, when asked if Livni’s presence meant that Qatar was trying to mediate between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement which controls Gaza.
The Israeli foreign ministry statement said Livni would also hold talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Although Qatar has political contacts with Israel and hosts an Israeli commercial interests office, Livni’s visit is a rare occurrence in the Arab world.